Instead of a FedEx shipping notice, I found a handwritten note lodged inside the cover of Alice Notley’s AT NIGHT THE STATES when it arrived. It read:


I shipped this book to you once and it came back, so the second time I am shipping it PRIORITY MAIL, I hope it doesn’t come back again.


Its matter of fact, anonymous address switches to a personal message sent to an unknown recipient who might just get its hint of exasperation and humor. I became a stranger connected to another stranger who has no knowledge of the connection. The note could almost be a stand-in for one of shorter poems in the book, most of them messages to Ted Berrigan, who at that time had recently died. They are grief notes, written with that unreal certainty that the daily chit chat of a shared life might continue after a loved one dies—these messages, though, are sent between two working poets:

437 E. 12th St.
Sunny knees
as 1970
I remember this light
I remember
writing this poem
when he left me
to my poems
the first time and
I wrote this
clumsy, fierce

The present time and place in the poem are indistinguishable from the past, "this" poems is the one she's writing now and then and in the same light as now and then. This thinking backward, then forward, then backward, is disorientating, reflective of a mind thinking through bewilderment of still being in relation to someone who occupies neither place nor time yet does.

this person who sleeps in my bed
she’s slept there forever and yet
there was another
when it was another
bed looking so same so recently
but that I would have to remember
(strangely an involuntary measure)

(from Sweetheart)

The "involuntary measure" of remembering, grieving, loving, reasoning, writing is fluid, a sense of time and place that is no time and no place, an entry way to the borderless place of the book’s title poem and its tour de force "At Night the States" (which I to write about in my next post if National Poetry Month doesn’t end first).

Another entry way landed on my doorstep, a book of Notley’s written around same time as AT NIGHT THE STATES called MARGERET & DUSTY. I ripped open the padded envelope and turned to the title page. It was stamped DISCARD, Pasadena Public Library, 1201 Minerva, Pasadena, Texas 77508, the town name an irreality of California and Texas, a seeming paraphrase of two lines from "Country Song:" the short poem that most obviously points to the title poem:

LA is my stolen little person before dawning
& I’ll live to see Texas in the morning someday.

Originally Published: April 25th, 2010
Quick Tags

Emily Warn was born in San Francisco and grew up in California and Detroit. She earned degrees from Kalamazoo College and the University of Washington. Her full-length collections of poetry include The Leaf Path (1982), The Novice Insomniac (1996), and Shadow Architect (2008). She has published two chapbooks: The Book...