Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
I Belong To An Invisible Cult Of The Air
I belong to an invisible cult of the air, a seance
of fragrances, a coven of spirits exiled like sparks and stars
from a fire they had to steal for themselves from the gods
before they could heretically burn in the flames
of their own flowering and feel at home on the thresholds
of their sky burials roaring like dragons on their deathbeds.
I’ve sat here at this desk for fifty years like a runway
of Nazca lines and tarantulan geoglyphs guiding
more advanced extraterrestrials than I am like a starmap
of power-totems I intuitively puzzled out of my shining
that keep shapeshifting like the zodiacs of mandalic sand paintings
as my colourist deserts at dusk keep going abstract on me.
Thousands of faces, dead and alive, phases of lunar apple bloom,
sages like fallen leaves, strangers I cherished once
with a familiarity that assumed I knew them, though
the longer they live with you like constellations
that follow you home to your doorstep as if it wasn’t
as much your house as already theirs inside your heart,
you realize how uncannily unknowable anyone is
whether they’re lying there in front of you in their death mask or not
waiting for you to wash their corpse in the living room by the fire
or follow you up the highway in the rear view mirror
disguised as a ballet of ball lightning showing off.
Solitude puts everything on an equal footing
like an egalitarian diaspora of gypsies around a fire
whispering to them about legends of smoke and mirrors,
and every breath I take is a vision of life
as I imagined it a moment ago, about to to expire
like a candle that’s come to the end of its tallow in the dawn
and all that’s left is this little black priestly heretic of a wick
kneeling like a forest fire in the ashes of its own starmud
having been struck by a lightning bolt of serpent fire
so it could see, like a star whose history runs ahead of it,
who it was dancing with in the dark like a firefly
to the picture-music of shadows on the far side of the moon.
As a poet, what an estranged community of misfit angels I belong to
and runaway demons who aren’t willing to take
anyone’s word for hell, without jumping from paradise first,
each in their own little cave skull in this desert of stars,
living on locusts and honey among decapitated prophets,
scapegoats driven out into the wilderness
through no fault of their own, wounded imaginations
they wear like medicine bags and bells around their necks
to let everyone know they’re coming like the black sabbath
of an evil eye warning people away from them like bad bread
as if that were the only way a pariah could respond compassionately
to the dark night of the soul that had descended upon it like a taboo
only the most obedient could break like a koan with impunity.
Poetry’s a dangerous business once you’ve finished unravelling
the conditioned chaos of the screening myth that conceals
rats behind the arras to find your own way out of the labyrinth
like the thread of a strong rope that once dangled you
like the horns of a lunar anchor over the dead seas of the moon
swaying like the metamorphic caterpillar of a butterfly
on the wind with a bird’s eye view of a vernal abyss
that might look like a kiss at a distance, but, in fact,
eats its joy on the fly like a broken promise of bliss.
Outlaws write better than sheriffs because sheriffs
have no idea of what it’s like to live your life
as if you were getting away with it like a theft of fire.
I sit down on the ground twice a day with my fellow miscreants
though we live lightyears away from one another in a thieves’ world
where we recognize each other by the constellations
that have been tattooed by barbed wire and rubber tires on our chest
and break into gales of laughter at our deepest felt alibis
like crows on the autumn boughs of enlightened haiku
breaking into blossom long after we’ve shed our eyelids
like the masks of black roses with blood on their thorns.
Not in the habit of asking for approval the path
of a heretic through life is lonelier and holier than a saint’s
living up to an example that’s easier to follow than lead,
no one’s footsteps but your own painted on the dance floor.
So, yes, it takes a rebel to see where they’re going
by their own light like a firefly off road into the dark
like someone unique among stars, exploring the face they had
before they were born like a myth of origins in Braille
they could read like a dream grammar of the Burgess Shale
with runic fingertips in an avalanche of Rocky Mountain gravestones,
the long bearded breakers of ancient oceans that long ago
washed up on these coasts of consciousness like empty lifeboats
to give the lighthouses of the imagination a purpose in life
warning seafarers to watch out for falling rocks
like Mayan calendars and the heraldry of cometary messengers
with news of astronomical catastrophes like pink mornings
on the horizons of the false dawns of evolutionary Armageddons.
Fifty years tilting at scarecrows in this unholy jihad
to uphold the honour of a blessing I was called upon to forgo
to be worthy of like a wandering warrior laying his sacred arms down
mutilated to be of no use to anyone after him
in tribute to the sacred pools of dying salmon
that swam upstream against the flow of the waterclock
like a constant beginner keeping something inestimably alive
by refusing to go along with time’s incapacity to reverse itself.
Haven’t you noticed yet out in the dark woods
how eventually even the permafrost goes soft on itself
and the most fragile of wildflowers with blue and white petals
as shy and cool as moonlight on your flesh bloom
like tiny love lyrics to life even in the cataclysmic doom
of the November duff reliving itself all over again
like the reincarnation of a poet who dropped out of death
in the early spring when the red-winged blackbirds returned?
If you listen with an imaginative heart and soul to the lachrymae rerum,
the tears deep down in things long enough to wonder why
the world’s always crying over a house it burnt to the ground,
eventually you’ll stop drying the eyes of mirages
and apprentice yourself to the long, lonely discipline
of an enlightenment path of the rain weeping behind its veils
like housewells and watersheds to ease the private hells
of other people’s root fires burning them like cedars at the stake.
You learn to kiss their burns like the head of a snake,
or dice for good luck, as you look deeply into their eyes
like a nightbird that refuses to turn into stone out of a lack of love
by denying the dragon within the use of your wings.
Show me an angel thatched with feathers that wasn’t
shingled first in scales, the lowest of the earthbound
that isn’t the quicksand foundation stone of the highest paradise
where Gabriel reveals himself as pure light
emanating from the dark eclipses of the cloaked ones
like the eyes of fluid diamonds pouring out of the wounded ore.
Sometimes you’ve got to pry the stone out of the sword
to see through the eyes of a prophetic skull
how the blind jewels of the underworld can rise up
like the Pleiades in the crowns of the black walnut trees
that have shed their leaves like posthumous love poems to the earth
by going down Orphically into a shady world of gibbering voices
and singing your heart out like a hermit thrush in a birch grove
to draw the poison out of the snakebite on their winged heels,
remembering, like the mother of muses, even among those
you cherish the most, looking back is the sacred path
in the afterlife of a holy ghost and no one returns
to the surface of their oceanic awareness like a bubble in the multiverse
of a warm-blooded mammal coming up for air, without feeling
deliriously light-headed and mysteriously empty handed
like a thief that left the new moon in the open window,
like the black pearl of an outdated calendar
illuminating gnostic annihilations of the soul
when Spica, Saturn and the moon are in spiritual syzygy
like three muses at the spring equinox of midnight and noon.
Everywhere the light getting us through the night of the mind
in a union of opposites greater than the sum
of all our hearts put together like tributaries
of the same dendritic mindstream that binds us like water to each other.
O sister I can hear you sighing like a candle in a skull
leaning on the crossbones of your arms on your windowsill
from here, wishing on a star of broken promises, and little brother,
my unfaithful alpha-male comrade, how many times
have I plucked the thorn of the moon out of the paw of Leo
like porcupine quills out of the nose of a dog that refused to learn?
Indefensibly human, homeless trolls living under the bridge
with creatures we couldn’t help becoming eventually
in transit like shepherd moons imprinted by an uninhabitable planet
from one extreme to the other as the cerulean blue of the sky gods
red-shifts into the chthonic demons that drink
libations of blood from our skulls like the crones of Kali
renewing their virginity in the birth waters of lilaceous lotus girls.
I know the wyrd of night owls practising at night in their towers
to make the carrion of dead snakes leaf again into wings
like powerful dragons sleeping in the hollows of dead trees
waking up from a dream of latent magic splitting the wishbones
of lesser songbirds like divining rods struck by lightning
over an unfathomable watershed of oceanic awareness
labouring to give birth to Venus like a pearl in a cosmic seashell.
We’re all reading the same writing on the wall,
Graffiti Botticellis all, trying to tell it like it is
to the best of our imaginations without pandering
to realistic lies that have to call on the facts to back them up
when any true delusion would have stood its ground alone,
third eye to third eye with the standard model of the universe in the way
and cataracts of rose petals would have fallen from the sky
like scales off the unarmoured visions of the blind
who can see through their veils whether you know who you are or not.
Whether you’ve triumphed over your own snakepit,
staring the Medusa down without turning into your own headstone
or realize you can sometimes milk human kindness
out of the opposite fang and breast of the moon like anti-venom
when you stop holding your shield up like a mirror to nature
you neither intend to come home carrying, nor be laid out upon
despite what mother said by way of farewell to her first born.
Do you not see the poets, how they wander into every valley
and their right hands of power do not obey their mouths
except those who remember much what there is to be grateful to
like a star you greet every night on the same long, dark road you’re on.
Ten thousand pilgrims. Eleven thousand shrines.
Not counting the temples tangled in the vines of their own lifelines
like low flying swallows in the bird nets of dream catching spider webs.
Not really so much a community as a migrant tribe of hunter-gatherers
following the herds of white buffalo stars across the sky
in a loose confederation of ghost dancers handing
the same inexhaustible peace pipe around like a talking stick
imbued with the power of thousands of songbirds
emerging out of the dark silence of the urgent morning trees.
I still tend to trust the picture-music of scratched guitars
as if their lyrics bespoke a common broken heart
to the bling and polish of more immaculately lacquered
tones of voice without any dawns or sunsets to speak of.
And I know how inconceivably far it is from one heart to the next
but I swear I would have lost my way long before this
if I hadn’t taken the wind home after a blissed-out firewalk
among the summer stars without leaving a path in my wake
anyone could snail down like the silver track of a tear on a cheek
or break like the trail of their own creative freedom
like a comet in the wilderness slagging the impurities
out of its diamond insights upon first impact with the earthbound.
Spaced out, scattered like disparate stars in an expanding universe,
introverted black dwarfs, explosive supernovas
with mercurial sensibilities and touchy detonators
that would rather blast than bless their way
through the world mountain standing in their path
like a moonrock in the old shoe of the heart
that kicked it down the road like the winged heel
they’d bruised by walking on it as far as they could
like oceanic eagles and sidereal swans out of their usual element
before flying off in all directions like arrows from the bows
of waterbirds reflected in their own snakey images.
Spiritually undulating on the waters of life like membranes in hyperspace
we twist ourselves into party balloons to welcome the prodigal
back to his homelessness like a surprise beyond
the dark doorway of a shipwrecked ark that turned the prayerwheel
of birth and death over to the pilot of a storm
to weather the sea like a prophylactic starmap
for overturned moonboats scuttled on holy mountain tops
without a commandment to show for all their trouble
or swept like dead starfish onto the shores of galactic islands
spewed out of the calderas of volcanic black holes.
The lanterns burn late in the mystic scriptoria
water-gilding the alphas and omegas of our myths of origin
in gold leaf so thin it would sublimate into a smudge of dust
like a dragonfly wing between your thumb and forefinger
if you even so much as blinked hard to see
what was written there in light and blood and tears and fire
like watercolours of the rain on caustic windowpanes
trying to heal broken-hearted stained glass
with long leaden scars of unredeemed base metal
that nevertheless keep the big picture together
long after the last philosopher’s stone has lost
the lustre of its vision of life like a Midas touch.
Comments about this poem (I Belong To An Invisible Cult Of The Air by Patrick White )
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