Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
Grey Inside And Out. October Rain
Grey inside and out. October rain.
How much darkness can a room contain?
Not much left to let go of. The glory
of the yellow elm across the street
revelling for one brief moment
in the eyebeam of the sun, naked
as a cobweb in the doorway of a cold furnace
the next, as if it had given some kind of offence.
Black bones of a bird that burned
and shed its feathers like a boa
on the playbill of an opening act in vaudeville
featuring one night tragedies with slug lines.
Only so many times you can rehearse
what went wrong with your life before
you begin to catch on to your own spontaneity.
Nothing happens for a reason. Relax.
It’s all out of control. Shallow-bottom
river boats without a rudder and only the leaves
for down to earth starmaps. Venus, Saturn,
Jupiter, the moon, I remember last night
when things were clearer than tears
how beautiful everything appeared
as if there were a sacred dance going on
and you could hear, even at a distance,
music coming out of the windows
of the broken-hearted darkness
that gave voice like ore to their shining.
Mortal. I don’t mind sitting this one out
while I watch the lords and consorts of life
weeping like mandarins geishas in the shadows
of the willows who’ve gone savage
over the last two unmannerly months.
The boy plays with fire. An old man
walks his mile scattering his ashes
before him on the pathway to senescent solipsism
or the possibility of being enlightened
accidentally by the appetites of Thracian women
for Orphic prophets that sing in their sleep.
I’m a waterbird in mourning on an abandoned lake
where all the canoes that once drifted freely
like moonlight among the stalks of wild rice
are in chains on scaffoldings above the waterline
and though the indignity still raises my ire
volcanically, I’m as apt these days to fall
into the caldera of a depression in a fuming firepit
as blow my top like the war bonnet of an ageing eagle
soaked in the rain like the flaming flightfeathers
of the staghorn sumac going out in a blaze of glory
like a wet matchbook trying to keep its pyre alight.
I’ve been saving my last blessing like a needle
when it’s asked for to reinforce the unravelled threads
that have spread across the palm of my right hand
like fossils of lightning tinkered out of the Burgess Shale.
One of the great advantages of having a longer fuse
than you’re ever going to live to see go off
like fireworks above St. John’s High School
is the creative freedom not to care if anyone
comprehends what it is your protesting
with a celebration of the lives of inflammable heretics
who died in agony still believing life was good
despite its reputation for being misunderstood.
Black walnuts, crushed like new moons,
eclipses, chimney sweeps on the sidewalk
as if a whole solar system had come to grief.
The amphorae of the milkweed wombs
more the urns of ghosts they breathed out
like a gust of parachutes on time-released
space capsules crash-landing like collapsed umbrellas
on rock and skull and good soil alike
as if the living were summoned to a habitable seance.
No more worrying about the buoyancy
of your swim bladder when you’re the shipwreck
of the first submarine on the moon to go down
like a fathomless windfall into the depths
of a life that doesn’t depend upon light at all.
Infernal fumaroles of Titanic smokestacks
belching like foghorns in a sunless atmosphere
longer than six months of midnight at the north pole.
Neptune’s off its axis. Must have been a fly by.
Or it’s bobbing for apples like shepherd moons.
No one in my life to leave myself to.
I’ve got kids. But I don’t think they’d know
how to relate to the paternity of a dead poet
who hung his catkins from their earlobes
like a do-it-yourself kit of home spun chromosomes.
Should I eviscerate myself like an Aztec sacrifice
of the heart to an unfeeling moon goddess
that’s never tasted the severity of her own knife?
She bathes in mother of pearl. I wipe the gore
of my starmud off in my grave and come up for air
like a white voodoo whale of unsinkable harpoons.
I doubt at this late remove we’ll ever see each other
again in this life quite the way we did once,
but if it means anything that can’t be doubted,
I still love her like a lighthouse that went
swimming alone in a storm without warning anyone.
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