Treasure Island

Patrick White

(September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)

A Canadian Poet Since You Asked


A Canadian poet since you asked.
I’m madder than the landscape.
Glaciers have scarred me
retreating north like my father.
My heart has been shaped by neolithic chisels
into a dolmen of Michelangelo’s David
with a silver bullet and a rock in his hand
and the determination of a statue
who refuses to be intimidated by a scarecrow.
The end of an ice age.
No leftovers.
The platter scraped clean as the Canadian Shield.
Savage runes carved in rock by rock.
Older than the Rosetta Stone
my silence is indecipherable.
I mean marrow.
I mean broken bones.
I mean blood on the snow.
The moon comes like a nurse to the wounded pines
and applies a cool poultice of light to their limbs
in a season of storms
when the lake raves
and the fish dive deeper into themselves
and the bears huddle up under their layers of fat
in caves they’ve turned into dream wombs
and I burn underground like the root-fire
of a radical evangelist
among survivalist cedars
gathering under tents of snow
to be born again in the blood of the Caribou.
There are more heretics in the wilderness
than there are saints.
Whatever it takes to keep warm.
There are nights when my spirit is so cold
it congeals on my eyes
like breath on a windowpane
and I’d say anything
without amending an iota of it
just to be burnt at the stake
and thaw the chandeliers of frozen tears
that hang over me like the sword of Damocles
or the brittle radiance of the Pleiades
where they pick glass apples from sapphire trees
or the crystal castles of Arianrod in Corona Borealis
where everything turns like a Sufi top
but no one ever gets vertigo
and the Celts pay back money they owe the dead
after they die
if you can imagine that.
I make a significant Doppler Shift in my lifelines
and heaven sees red.
I am a Canadian poet
and my wingspan
is the sky over Saskatchewan.
I’m the firemaster of the staghorn sumac
when it rises like a phoenix in the fall
and then I’m a bird in the chimney
like a word stuck in my throat
I can’t recall
but it had something to do
with a wishbone and a harp.
I’m not the nice guy everyone purports me to be.
I’ve got the manners of a mountain
and the emotional life of the sea
and if I seem happy to meet people
it’s only because
it sometimes gets as lonely here
in the vastness of this snow blind no man’s land
as an icebreaker
shattering imageless mirrors
like cataracts in Frobisher Bay.
I’m a warm house
that opens its door to strangers on a cold night.
I bond like fire and shadows to anyone
against the impersonal inclemency of the weather.
That said
no man is Baffin Island
but there are foreign submarines
breeding like pods of killer whales all around me.
Explorers have been planting flags here for years
like artificial flowers in real gardens
but they keep getting lost in the holocaust of maples
gliding through no man’s land
behind a barrage of pine-cone artillery shells
to overrun the hill
like October assaulting Vimy Ridge.
What the earth teaches us here
like a female warrior shaman
is the hard love of an exacting mother
that no one owns
and can’t be possessed by another
because she’s got thresholds like timberlines
even a wolf can’t cross
and a memory like the Arctic
if she’s taken for granted
or real estate.
I am a Canadian poet.
White gold
from English ore
and uranium from the French.
The raven trickster of native lore.
The sacred clown.
The dangerous taboo
that lives too deep in the woods
for anyone to break.
I am a Canadian poet.
I marry knives like superstitions
that are meant to protect me from myself
but the moon keeps baiting my lovelife
with sexual acts
to trap and trade me in
like the skin of a mink
for a double-bladed ax.
I am a Canadian poet
with multiple identities.
A multilingual polyphrenic patriot.
A chameleon with a passport that’s turning green.
because it’s spring here
and the lilaceous asphodels are up
but the seasons change like manic moodrings
and by the fall I’ll be burning my i.d.
in a protest rally of disaffected leaves
just to balance things
between Cain and Able
heaven and earth
murder and sacrifice
in a fair-minded farmboy kind of way
where everyone gets their ten minute say before God
and then sits down like the House of Commons
to break meat and wheat
salt and bread
loaves and fishs
or barbecued burgers and hotdogs with the crowds.
I am a Canadian poet.
I was cooked like a kid in its mother’s milk.
I grew up on the scraps they threw under the table.
I’ve learned to sing
like a streetcorner guitar case
that belts it out
like an open coffin at the Last Supper
where all they ever eat is flesh and blood
and I’m a desert on a diet
that’s not into moral food.
If religion wanted to do my generation any good
it should go confess its accusation
to a world it’s misunderstood
like a child it won’t admit
is the issue of its own miscegenation.
I am a Canadian poet
from a big country with with an aquiline overview
of human nature red in tooth and claw
and like you
I am a citizen of the same abomination.
I arm myself to go to peace.
I talk myself to death
instead of committing suicide.
When nobody wants to know you
what have you got to hide?
There’s no risk in being open.
And yesterday always tells me the truth
about why it lied to my youth
about why the windows were weeping for the future
like a skull with glacial lakes for eyes
and a place on the totem
they keep for the dead
where I just can’t seem to get ahead
of my own prophecies.
Here’s one.
Stick a fork in it.
I’m as done as a barbecue in hell
and that doesn’t mean I just don’t feel well
it means I can feel the flesh slipping from my bones
like snow off a roof in a spring warm-up
and all I’ve got to live on
is recalled food for thought.
I’m grateful for everything
but sometimes it’s hard to know
what to be grateful for
when everything tastes like a foodbank
or Canadian culture
with the government for a muse.
For nearly fifty years
I’ve burned like a furnace
with the mouth of a fountain
firewalking across the waterstars.
There’s no axle on the wheel of birth and death
but for years I’ve been spinning it in the mud
thinking it might go somewhere
if I drive hard enough
but all I’ve done
is carded and spun whole cloth like Ghandi
from cottonmouths and fer de lance
meant to regulate the baby boom in slaves
like a cottage industry.
Now the skin I wore
like Yeats’ coat of old mythologies
in the fools’ eyes
to cover my enterprising nakedness
fits like the shroud of Turin
in a snakepit of sewing machines
that keep testing my bloodstream for plutonium.
It’s hard to learn to walk on water
when it’s high tide without any waves
and you’re always falling through the ice
too far from shore to risk a rescue.
When I’m cold enough to take my own advice.
I am a Canadian poet.
Second to none.
Because more than any nation could encompass
I’m first and foremost human.
And though it’s my brain
it’s not my mind
anymore than the wind is
and what it thinks
is not my personal property
to put my name on
and say I own this.
Sooner say you own the leaves in fall
you can at least take a rake to
and gather up and dispose of
like junkmail that came to the wrong address
than say this thought is mine
and that thought is yours.
You make a fist
of an open hand.
You begin to live behind closed doors
to keep yours in
and theirs out.
You concoct wars
that get out of hand
to change their children’s minds.
Wasn’t King Canute
and Britain when she put to sea
enough to convince anybody
that if anyone did rule the waves
nobody told the waves?
It’s the same with your mind.
How are your wavelengths
any different than those of the sea?
It’s like a star saying I own that light.
And I’m the one who decides whom it falls upon.
I am a Canadian poet.
The light is free
as it always has been
to create anything it wants to.
And though they’re my eyes
who can say the seeing
belongs to them alone?
You get the pointless point
of cowboy Zen?
I’m not a fountain pen
with blue blood for ink.
I say what I think without a blotter
to wipe my mouth clean of what I’ve said
like snow melting on the red oak in the woodshed
because it can’t take the heat
and wants to get out of the fridge.
I am a Canadian poet.
Wilderness flowers.
Fireweed after every conflagration
and columbine in the ashes
that didn’t know what else to grow.
And I suppose I should say something corny
about wheat and beavers and maple leaves and Mounties
and all that
but you already know and besides
at the bottom of all these totem poles
and reformed trees
that went to A.A. for drinking too much
I’m a lot more complicated than that.
I’m more dangerous
than any hardware store
you’ve ever met before.
And one thing about being born into a country
with enormous natural resources
like a mouse in a well-stocked pantry
you can afford to be seen
being kind and considerate to the poor
or as I do
scream murder
when I hear them being killed on the news.
Orpheus picks up his guitar in the corner
and begins to sing the blues.
See what I mean?
It’s obscene to be so decent about suffering
you raise both hands to stop it.
Every quarter given that was asked.
No surrender.
In this country that makes me an iconoclast.
Stand fast in the name
of any deception you disown
and you’re an outlaw
bad to the bone.
In literature class
they teach you to kiss ass anapestically
at wine and cheese soirees
making small talk awkwardly
across language barriers
with cultural attaches
after the reading
after the hour you spent
listening to cement
lament some lost cornerstone
that brought the house down
like the government
when she just couldn’t shovel
or churn it out anymore
and pretend it was butter
and good luck woman
made for the door.
He wants to call her a whore.
But he’s too nice for that.
So he talks about her poetry
as if it were as flat-chested
as she believed she was
playing to her worst fear
like paint ball
in suggestive overtones of camouflage.
A whole hour
waiting for one good line
that isn’t about making jam
or bleeding maples for their syrup
and how to flip a pancake like a lyric
over an open fire on the shore of Canoe Lake
where Tom Tomson drowned
standing up in his birchbark
to take a piss
or being hit on the head with a poker
out of jealousy
and somebody swapped his body with an Inuit
so its hard to intuit whose ghost was left
to give the creative seance of poets on tour
a sponsor to write about.
I write from the inside out
not the outside in.
I put the pauper before the prince
because I don’t like dressing up for royalty
and my girlfriend couldn’t afford a hat to meet the queen.
She was a hell of a human being
but she had rude hair
that wasn’t familiar with protocol.
She could paint like Frieda Rivera
or Georgia O’Keefe
but she was raised on welfare in Westmount
and didn’t think she needed a hat
to go anywhere
except when it rained
and even then she didn’t mind getting wet.
Things are so bittersweet here
you’d think everyone kept killer bees
and a hive was as good as a muse
to poets as dormant as smoke.
They all burn cedar boughs in a bucket
they swing like pioneer incense
to chase the bats out of the attic
across the road to their neighbour’s house
who answers them in kind with odes.
But I’m not a turtle crossing.
I am a Canadian poet
with low enough self-esteem
like the sea at the foot of the mountains
to compel me to abuse myself
by pursuing an earthly excellence
that’s always a threshold beyond
my material means to achieve
but works wonders for the spirit
you wouldn’t believe.
I can conceive gold easy enough
when I write like the Yukon
but I live like ore
at the bottom of an abandoned mine
that was staked out by alchemists years ago
like base metal trying to strike it rich
without having to be philosophical about it.
I am a Canadian poet.
That’s not a fact.
That’s an interpretation.
And I’m turning it
like a jewel in the light
to see if that means
I’m the right man for the wrong nation.
Nature or nurture.
Dynamic equilibrium
or the membranal equivalence of hyperspace
blowing bubbles that pop like worlds?
The same eye by which I see my country
is the same eye by which it sees me?
I can live with the ambivalence if need be
but what I can’t stand
is the artificiality of the collective unconscious
when it starts adding flags and logos to its archetypes.
Jung would weep himself to sleep
every night like a recurring nightmare for years
or turn into an advertising executive
just to see how polluted things can get
when you leave the farm to an idiot.
You end up threshing waterlilies
and the engineers can’t help
competing with beavers
to see who can build the most dams.
I am a Canadian poet.
I think like Montreal
but I feel just like Toronto
with Vancouver for a spiritual life
and Ottawa for a conscience.
But I’m most at home in the backwoods
with flowering weeds and islands of trees
the farmers circumnavigate with ploughs
with little things that go on in the grass
as if everything that went on in the rest of the universe
were of absolutely no concern to them.
One-eyed Zen.
Ants on the chicory.
The fox is in its den.
I can see more space in a grain of sand
than a dragonfly’s got places
to plant pot on crown land.
And I like the way time stops
when nobody’s watching
and there’s something ageless about aging
I hadn’t noticed before
that makes me feel I’ve been here forever
and none of my questions
about what human beings are doing
walking around on the earth
really mattered anymore
now that I’ve found a place
for my homelessness
in Canadian folklore.
I used to feel trivial
surrounded by so much that was majestic.
Sunsets out over the Pacific
that put poppies to shame
and the savage pyramids of the pharaonic Rockies
too young to have an afterlife
worth the time and effort that has to go into it.
And besides
who needs hieroglyphs
when you’ve got the Burgess Shale?
I used to feel small
scurrying around in the shadows
of the tall imperium next door
under the feet of a brontosaur
waiting for a meteor
like my only hope
to get this dinosaur off my back.
I don’t have the genes to dominate a species
and evolution when you get right down to it
isn’t much of an achievement
when all it amounts to
is trying to make up for what you lack.
In art that means
there’s lots of grants for ingenuity
but none for genius.
The first painting goes up on the fridge.
The second jumps from a bridge
just to show them
how creative it is.
But that was years ago
when the only things I didn’t doubt
were trees.
I learned to weather things
like a whistling cherub in the corner of a map
that tells you which way the wind is blowing
by the gps of its cheeks.
I tasted the weather for myself
and found out all that rant
they taught me in highschool
about the pathetic fallacy not being true
was just science’s way
of looking at snow like a labcoat.
I am a Canadian poet.
It really does rain when I do.

Submitted: Friday, January 20, 2012

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Comments about this poem (A Canadian Poet Since You Asked by Patrick White )

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  • Gajanan Mishra (1/31/2012 5:48:00 PM)

    Oh, thanks for this poem. I love it my dear canadian poet.
    All creature are poets. recognised.
    I invite you to please read my poem.

    Yours
    Gajanan Mishra (Report) Reply

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