Requiem for the First Half of Split

An early sadness for the future
(as in dreams of myself young and sad)
accompanies my departure towards
a conventional story: a town
of girls a New York City dormitory.
And so a trail proceeds from
our house on the top of the hill
down the back way of former army barracks
and past the borrowed church (ours had no tank)   
where I was baptized
reasoning “it must be true” out of
the love I had for my mother.
And Tony’s house there across the street from it   
absolutely in the Mexican gully
in dreams of which he and I still fight armed enemies   
he stepped on a land mine in Nam
when I remind my brother, twenty years after   
his face contorts he knows the look of that death   
a week before he himself dies
blood-tinged ruddy-winged, but that’s another   
dream-site the Needles Cemetery inelegant   
unbeautiful and dear and dry.
See how many loves, how much thus sadness   
in the future begins to
haunt that walk down that hill
towards the highway away to the dormitory
as I go to New York to sever love’s connections   
and make the “real ones” generated by
actual mating by beauty and clothes
the black wool suit with its three button jacket   
the oddly puffed-sleeved orange sweater   
and an orange and midnight-
blue paisley waistless dress.
New trail there,
Brett knows my future love though I don’t
hitchhikes with him to California
years before I catch up to the poets in Iowa City
that will be in ’69, my brother   
hasn’t yet signed up for Nam then   
when he gives me rattles off a rattler
which I keep in my wooden India box I still have
until they stink.
I can’t keep track of the track there’s nothing but   
sidetrails of love and sadness so love is
all that makes my people act they go to war for love   
you know, of who and what you are   
like I was baptized by
the cruellest-lipped prissiest-mouthed man in the world   
for love, but I could just have gone swimming
walked back up love’s hill
back up at the house you can get to the pool
barefoot if you can find enough   
bush or telephone-pole shadows.   
We’d all swim together
I’d tread water dreaming of the future   
but a wilder larger eye birdlike   
distant holds the pool in its pupil   
anyone’s that too, and hold the enlarging   
water sad how not be
why don’t the smart girls in New York know this
why don’t you or I know what we know
the eye and the water both enlarge still why don’t   
smart girls in Paris, yes larger but will never flood
the containing eye, but why not   
and sometimes it does
when you or your own are the news.

Alice Notley, “Requiem for the First Half of Split” from Mysteries of Small Houses. Copyright © 1998 by Alice Notley. Reprinted with the permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. For online information about other Penguin Group (USA) books and authors, see www.penguin.com.
Source: Mysteries of Small Houses (Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 1998)
More Poems by Alice Notley