from White Phosphorus

By Alice Notley b. 1945 Alice Notley
“Flowery mantle.” “Homeric sacrifice?” “noise of darkness” “fear of
darkness” “now mantle of innocence” “King of his death now” “Home”
“I’ve come home” “He said, ‘I’ve come home’” “They were sacrificed for
nothing, for distant” “instants of thought” “All for your thinking”
“He said, ‘I’ve come home; I've finally come home’ then he died” “flowers”
“Magnolias & lilies” “innocent now” “I’ve come home. Who’s there?
at home? all the dead?” “To come home from the war” “years after” “To die” “To

wear mantle light honey” “mantle dead white” “in sunlight, in late”
“Homeric?” “he said it was hideous” “all of it” “hideous” “every
instant in Nam” “theatre of worsts” “now mantle of
white” “phosphorous & lilies?” “trees now lean down” “over our faces”
“Tell details of battle?” “As” “in an epic?” “As” “in lies?”
“We don’t want that now” “We want only our mother of
dirt” “our mantle of white” “want each other of soul; and”

“we want” “our mother of spirit” (“rich sweet in dirt”) “we want”
“our father” “of leaves” “We want our fate fragmented to air for
our children to breathe;” “light on water for widows to think near”
“moonlight on water to ease you” “we want no poet, we want our
homes in the earth” “that’s all we can have” “want no place in
history or poetry” “want our wanderings our sorrows, after the war
not remembered,” “we want not

to pain her” “we want our love mingled” “with yours” “no place in
history” “only in love” “remove us from history,” “All of us   
sacrificed” “all for a thought” “They played with our souls.” “Used our
souls to fight, be their willfulness” “willfulness” “we were made their
willfulness,” “nothing but that—” “And you too, you yielded, one
way or another” “to their will.” “They” “who are
the subject” “of all history” “& of poems” “as if”

“we have ever, in all ways” “yielded to them” “by speaking of” “always
speaking of” “Kings” “presidents” “the Great Men” “their mistresses”
“Generals” “Communist Kings” “Leaders” “Warriors” “West Point of Greeks”
“West Point of Greeks against” “West Point of Trojans” “Isn’t it more
beautiful, under the Earth?” “Or to be sunlight, not history?”
“Now I can love, & only” “now” “Remove us from history but
not from your air” “History is willfulness” “is” “precious parts”

“History’s for those” “who ask not” “to be forgiven”
“We ask to be forgiven” “& loved” “No, we ask” “to be absolved”
“And to be” “elemental” “ask leaves & wind”
“Ask leaves bending down towards our faces” “Ask light & dirt” “we ask”
“our children” “we ask our wives” “Ask that they live” “We ask
to be” “with the ones that we killed” “To history” “saying nothing”
“being that” (“nothing”) “& to history” “having been” “nothing.”


“In this moment” “before” “anyone, ever” “died” “before we were born?”
“in this moment forever before” “before we went to a war”
“Before we died” “In this moment, now” “In this moment before, it is
not before” “In this very moment” “where is it” “where we
haven’t died” “or died inside” “In this moment we haven’t” “in this
moment, no one” “in this moment, no one has ever, died” (“But I have
been born”) “in this moment” “where, where is it” “in moment” “who’s here”
“Catch it catch it” “moment where we are” “merely as it is autonomous,”

“autonomous moment” “Without a war” “without a guilt,”
“Can we exist” “Outside of what was?” “in the air of our thoughtless,
female, moment” “the air of our moment” “not grievous not iron”
“moment, not air” “but air of our moment” (“woman-made?”) “faithful,
faithful & boundless” “reticent & light” “fond, & kindly” “not reticent
but shiny,” “morning-starry, not bloody” “not bloody, in the morning”
“in the star” “it is a star” “it is autonomous” “star & it’s mild” “Is
it a little” “of us” “from before” “we were born?” (“that was

never”) (“I know”) “It is now” “autonomous” “moment of white,”
“white flowers, stars & white flowers,” “not before we were born, in
this moment of our childhood” “have we our childhood” “in
this moment he has his childhood, I think, it is center of”
“moment, of childhood” “center of, moment” “wings of his pigeons” “white
& grey wings” “moment a feathery” “center of senses” “center of
sensation, is this moment” “Center, as sensation falls away”
“He has his love” “this moment” “forever” “center of brown eyes”

“seen through his eyes” “Only through” “the eyes” “the real eyes”
“of the dead” “this moment” “through his eyes” “as child, as
childhood” “Only through” “the personality” “can this be” “of the
dead” “the lovely person” “holding” “this moment” “this moment in
place” “this moment forever” “center of sensation” “Soldiers,
we are center” “of the morning” “we are moment” “we are dearest”
“we are heart” “Soldiers,” “we are pleasing” “we are center”
“we are moment” “are not soldiers” “never soldiers” “never were.”


“Mask now” “is complies” “complies” “with the forms (too much of everything,
everywhere”) “All of this is” “the mask” “my mother’s mask” “& mine”
“wronglike forms, too many of” “Complying, to live here” “always, more
complying” “Too many things” “machines” “too many” “too many clothes”
“cheap roses” “kleenexes” “membranous” “bags, of plastic” “Too many
ideas” “vocabularies no color” “too many paintings” “too many songs”
“too many Tarot decks” “& poems” “& books” “Too many” “things to eat”
“too many” “machines” “magic machines” “too much magic” “much too much of it”
“Stupor” “distress” “& abandoning of others” “too much news” “news”
“everything” “made the same” “too many names” “too much knowledge”

(“knowledge, so endless” “is nothing”) “A war” “more news, more
to know about, to know” “Excuse for anger” “indignation” “you can still
keep your money” “know the terms of news” “terms” “& Not be nature”
“don’t be nature” “mute” “not knowing the” “terms” “Know what news knows”
“What words know” “Do words know?” “No they don’t, only flesh knows only

Alice Notley, “White Phosphorus" (excerpt) from Grave of Light © 2006 by Alice Notley and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Grave of Light (Wesleyan University Press, 2006)

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Poet Alice Notley b. 1945

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

 Alice  Notley


Alice Notley has become one of America’s greatest living poets. She has long written in narrative and epic and genre-bending modes to discover new ways to explore the nature of the self and the social and cultural importance of disobedience. The artist Rudy Burckhardt once wrote that Notley may be “our present-day Homer.” 

Notley was born in Arizona and grew up in Needles, California. After earning her BA from Barnard College and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

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