I Could Have Been What You Wanted Me To Be - Poem by Patrick White
I could have been what you wanted me to be.
You would have hated it. The windows
would have burst out laughing and the mirrors
would have followed suit. I wasn’t
a real estate agent who was going
to provide you with a house. I left that
to better men than me. Though I would have
said I forty years ago before I was objectified.
What a smile. And your hair and your body.
Beautiful breasts. A savage hippie when
it came to sex. Intelligent. Ambitious
and emotionally wrecked. Mommy
had a harpoon. Mustn’t go too deep.
And she thrust it straight into your heart.
It used to hurt me to see how you hurt
in silence and irrationality. Before you
took it out on me. The people we were.
The person you wanted so nearly to be.
An artist. And you were. I was raised
in the gutter so no one but my mother cared
and I was free before I had a word for it,
but you were anchored to your upbringing
like a waterlily in swamp. You wanted
to turn all that festering into something beautiful.
I always admired your courage. You
plunged into things. Me, for example.
I can relate to that kind of bravery, except
in me as well as you that always led to a kind
of self-destructiveness, for better and worse.
Hey, but the quality of your verse
was much improved. Your rage grew
surrealistic enough it took on an edge
of concerted madness. You began to see
how everything was quantumly entangled.
That didn’t stop you from leaving
or me letting you go. Fly, fledgling, fly.
And, yes, there was a sadness that hung
over everything like a bell that’s sung
at its last funeral. And the moon was
terrifying at times. The sheer impersonality
of it. The experience of forever as an absolute.
I inherited a lot of powerful memories
that comfort me sometimes on a winter night
when the snow is so silent and everyone’s
inside, warm, being buried alive in drugs,
movies, alcohol, kids, fights, canvases and poems,
or walking around town in a solitude
that melts the ice behind me as if a glacier
were throwing salt and gravel on the road.
I think of you as the first woman I ever loved
unconditionally, and I shudder from
a deeper cold that comes from deep within.
Your youth and your beauty won’t be mine again.
Watching you amazed by something
you’d accomplished without any help from anyone
is a pleasure I’ve long forgone. The gate
is as open as it’s ever going to get, braided
in vetch, and the door you left through
so many times, only to return later in sorrow,
I split up on a chopping block for kindling.
There was always something irrepressible about you.
A volcano on an Italian mountainside.
You sacrificed what you loved to get what you want.
I preserved what was good about us
and the rest has vaporized into eccentric ghosts
I talk to when the wind is rattling the windows.
When the dead branch drags its fingernails
down a blackboard and it feels, o yes, it feels
like the shrieking of a snow owl made of chalk
just after it’s seized the deer mouse by the throat.
Sometimes reluctantly, I’ve always been on
your side, like your eyes are. It’s the shadows
that made a mess of everything. Darkness
I can understand. The ambergris of blackholes
spewing the starlight back like prophets and perfume.
At the end, all we ever wanted from each other
were our bodies. Sex with a friend who wasn’t
the answer to what we were looking for,
or was for awhile. Someone you didn’t need to kill
because they’d already died for you. And that
was more than enough to drive you over
the edge with guilt for being true to yourself,
wasn’t it? - - as if murder remained innocent
by virtue of the madness that had laboured to achieve it.
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