Five Poems from
Alice Notley



The Agent:  The Agent, assigned vaguely by the government to tail Ines, the poet, has fallen in love with her.   

Charl:  Charlatan Gregory, media (the Garble) mogul who has targeted Ines in his papers, wants to be shot, have a near-death experience, and report on it in order to be admired.

Verball:  A sort of failed thinker, now killer, he has hacked to pieces Harry preparatory to killing Ines.

Harry:  Victim of Verball’s axe murder, now existing only in ghostlike pieces, she haunts Verball.

Orphée:  Possibly passé folklike singer, tried to shoot Ines, is now saddled with Verball with whom he once had an affair. 

C.S.:  Younger poet, female, tried to shoot Ines, and is now preparing to shoot Charl.

Cop:  Assigned to Ines’s case after first attempted murder of her, has been transformed into lucidmindedness by this association.

Ines:  Verball’s ultimate victim, also the author of various poems promulgated and attacked  via the Garble.  She has the power of Eversion:  she can turn you insideout -- that is, totally fuck you over --with her words.  She is also the tutelary deity to whom Harry prays.

I’m going to shoot Charl, Orphée thinks

I can’t let this bastard run my life --

Should I hire someone?  Cowardly, and

I’ve always had a gun.  Fate

handed it to me years ago, as if to

say one day everything’ll come together

You’ll know why you own this object

cold iron bearer of power; I, Fate

will clarify your tale, at the appropriate time.

I crafty, imperious Fate:  I’m

always writing a song, Orphée thinks.

Should I shoot him overtly, allow

myself to be taken into custody?  What would

my defense be?  What, really, is my 


Is it to keep the truth from being 

published?  Has

fear of his papers’ exposure of facts

they don’t even know yet 

turned me into

a devious weaselly Thing?  For example

I could kill Verball instead -- no risk of exposure then

Do the world a favor, he’s a murderer

No you can’t shoot a former lover.  Yes

a lover’s who you shoot.  Verball

has done this most awful thing, but Charl’s

who we hate.  Charl wants to own us

Verball can’t remember what day it is.

I need to kill someone; I’ve lost my definition

It’s Ines’s fault, but I can’t kill her, I’ve


What if I can’t kill anyone?  You have to

be able to kill somebody.  Do I believe

that but God won’t let me -- which god?

I’m my own god, dammit I have

the right to shoot your malicious ass the

precedent acts

of my ancestors

declare that to kill will regenerate

me from

this outrageous unsanctified tension I

can’t shake.


The ghost of Harry’s ghost, ghost pieces,

have begun to 

whisper to Verball -- I still

don’t know why I was born

mouth I was born eye I was born

and foot and finger

why?  Sequins for the throat of chaos

a collar for

that monster -- Not a monster, says a


Harry won’t shut down, her last

bits flit through Verball’s world

He’s walking

on the rue des Pins, in a

meander towards Ines.  Whom

Angel Agent

watches.  The pieces of Harry

glint among ghost trees, they look

like torn cloth lights.  I’m in and

out of you:

It’s an enemy world; nothing asked to be

brought into it and then you can’t stand to


Everyone keeps making me

go, oh drag her away.  Chaos do you love

my piecemeal

display?  I’m still being dragged away,


Chaos doesn’t own me yet.  Come along

says a

voice.  The trees.  Aren’t there.  Either

The fucking dead old used up -- they

were for us --

it was all for us, to be prosperous in the

eyes of god -- which god?  Kill anything . . .

Reader, Harry’s pieces, thoughts and warped


come from the borders of timelessness

are certainly as real as your convention

your currency, no?  She’ll never leave me

once the words have floated through

they never leave you


Who is forcing who; I won’t let you

tell me to

The lines of constraint the silver

threads so 

tough -- the future holds you to it

When first I entered this blindness

some call light

are you fortunate, is fate fickle; if

you al-

literate I won’t call you sweetheart

any more, but

if you shoot Charl I might -- who

whose ethics?

Playing you for a Sucker.  C.S. enters

Charl’s outer offices -- no one looks up at


Don’t make the people nervous

Charl has

ordered his staff.  One secretary asks

what she wishes

I’m here to interview Mr. Gregory

for Blatant Magazine the literary journal

I have an appointment.  Yes of course

Charl in his office sees her approach

slowly -- he

sees her slowly, walking on the balls

of her feet, dancing toward him to

create his future . . .

And at that moment, Orphée has

forced his

way in, past the sec -- there’s some-

one with

Mr. Gregory.  I’m more important,

he says

C.S. sees Orphée’s gun -- shit, he’s

upstaging me 

and fires hers quickly, as does Orphée


competing shots, one into each side of


semi-protected torso.  Then,

the assassins stare at each other

How can this have happened? 

Everything is out of control


Has he gone to the hospital, 

where’s Charl --

He’s much nearer death than he’d

anticipated . . .

intensive care blips, and inside him:

famished for light, he sits on a cold

dark beach

a Northern Ocean; waiting

for ship of death, or sunrise?  there’s

a big liner way out there -- should he

swim to it through ice water

What comes towards him, then, is a


cloud.  I am everything, it says

You wanted the vision of your

culture’s choice?

You got no choice.  You thought you

knew all the stories?  You are a

bread-winner supreme

there’s no bread here.

You have eyes for light,

there aren’t any fucking eyes.  You

want something?  Do you?  There

isn’t something here.  You don’t get to be lifted 

up arms of the god of your

choice.  And you don’t get any S & M

punishment thrills . . .

You aren’t even here, I am.  This is what


is, what your life was -- negative --

what you gonna fucking do with that

if you get to go back, re-

materialized into your familiar mammalian

odors.  Where were you your

whole, moribund life?  Dreaming

of significance.  Your blood’s being

pumped back into you; your money’s in the 

lobby cash machine, want some?

Charl doesn’t know what he can want.  

Feel so cold but can’t want warm, 

there isn’t any. 


I, Ines, wait.  I’m waiting for you -- not you

Verball.  I’m

waiting for nameless knowledge.  It’s come

before, but then

I’d forget.  Being pulled into alignment with

Power.  What else.  Call it

no tabulation of sacrifices or worth . . .

doesn’t care.  Or

is that true?  I’m waiting for you.  I’m

not a you.

It tells you there is no time or you or


in sense of symbol or body you 

know.  I don’t talk  

Outside, the Street’s whistling, as stupid

as ever.

Waiting to see if I’ll die -- not waiting

for its own erasure:  when Weather

will decimate its customs, and the Garble

howl itself to death, even

the Garble.  This woman’s nothing, thinks

the Street

She doesn’t even have a price.  No

silver sash on her ass signifying

the offer

Could we have done it any other way?

Of course.  Will I die without respect

even for Death, or Chaos?  Now, my

dear, you’d say,

illumine us with a positive counter-


I’m not, like Verball, mad.  Bound up

with numbers, balancing acts.  I

don’t impose order.  Though I’m still

trying not to hurt

anyone, why?  I dream that I’m the

murderer and awaken fearful.  Everything’s

contagious -- violence, paranoia,

lovesickness too

I’m waiting

I’m waiting for you.


Cop visits me to talk.  So,

we don’t have any antecedents, he says

I declare myself without context, I say

And anyway

global trade erases our backgrounds.

I used to have a story but

Charl got hold of that aspect

of us.  The University shreds us too

There’s nothing to declare to customs

except for

purchased goods . . . Then, Cop says,

I have no life because there aren’t

any lives.  Figures

In a dark void.  Why not?

How hard am I? he asks.  I

don’t know, I say.  As hard as

St. Francis of Assisi?  You’re

hard if you can’t give in.  There’s nothing

that gives in me

Are you boasting? he says.  Who’d care? I say  

The Street cares, he says.

It’s so dishonest, I answer, it doesn’t recog-

nize its own smell

Not excremental but like dying flesh,

like Charl . . .

I feel a call from his coma, I go on

He’s scared as hell of dying.  His tiny

mote soul is desperate for

compassion, some golden god . . .

Shouldn’t you go sit next to him? Cop says

Aren’t you the Tutelary?  

Yes, I say, but he’s disgusting

it’s the dumbass rich not the poor that we

always have with us.  Their useless

emotions attached to nothing

panic them into a rags-

in-the-wind performance of -- was

this ever -- a life?  Shit on him.  I don’t have to

go for just anyone.  Not yet; something else is about to