Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
I'd Rather Learn To Sing From The River And The Wind
I’d rather learn to sing from the river and the wind
than second guess what some conceptualist is elaborating
like a busy fractal in a labyrinth taking his mystagoguery
way too literally to be lyrically credible to the nightbirds.
Crutches might be the skeletal structure of lapwings
like model airplanes we used to build as kids
as we jumped from cliffs and ran down hills
to get a lift out of our Icarian descents, to be swept
if only a little way before the inevitable crash
up into the air, this sack of flesh hanging like a doorknocker
in space, and freedom, do you remember it, tasted
so deliriously exhilarating only the fledglings
of the returning swallows could understand what we meant
when we said daring said feathers and falling took flight,
but a flying buttress can’t teach a cathedral to soar.
I used to take a telescope, a cat, and a journal of poems
up to the rocks of Heartbreak Hill late at night
when most of the dangerous drunks were crashed out
on carseats upstairs in the triplex next door
and sit alone for hours staring at the stars
intoxicated by Keats pressing joy’s grape against his palette
bleeding to believe that beauty was truth
though the truth I knew wasn’t always beautiful.
The silence, the solitude, the unattainability
of a young man’s aspirations to say the stars
deeper than they’ve ever been said before
in Arabic, Greek or Latin, as I wrote down the sacred syllables
they whispered to me in tongues you could only hear with your eyes
have sustained the exquisite beginning
of everything I’ve cherished over the lightyears
I’ve spent exploring the abyss ever since.
I drink to the lees this full measure of an hourglass
as if time were a housewell in a desert of stars,
a bottomless bucket that sips from the watersheds of the muses
and then pours a third back toward itself as a sign of respect
I learned from Dogen Zenji who wasn’t aware
he was being observed by someone eight hundred years after him.
Not a studied charm, but a great grace of gestural significance
that teaches you how to think with your heart
without believing your mind’s gone slumming
because there’s so much emotion in the inspiration
of your insight, there’s no distinction between
the diamond and the coal in a snowman’s eyes.
My spirit’s still a beginning that never grows old.
I’m a dangerous child playing by myself on the moon
many days of my life in red-shifting moods
arrayed like the rainbow body of a tantric chameleon
blowing moondogs like smoke rings in the night.
Stars, stars, stars, and the fireflies I’ve included
in their ranks of equal magnitude in the shapeshifting zodiac
of any starmap eschatological enough to conceive of ends and origins.
I’ve never been wounded by a senile childhood
with a career plan for its voodoo dolls. Cursed retroactively
or beatified anyone whose compassion wasn’t heretical,
whose wisdom wasn’t crazy enough to transcend itself
like a reason for dying, whose hidden secret didn’t burn
like the return of the one to the many. I refuse
to throw a wreath of roses on anyone’s coffin lid
or good heartwood on the pyres of the Ganges of their ashes
if they weren’t blooded by the thorns of their unimaginable beauty first.
I’ve listened to lies that were far more beautiful than the truth.
I’ve wept the stars out of my eyes at the death
of a delusion I mourned like the passing of a mirage
my root fires mistook for the approach of a sudden downpour.
It’s takes more genius to make a brilliant failure of life
than it does to desecrate it with a mediocre success.
To the death! To the life! To the intensity
that transmutates the stars in the crucibles
of the human imagination soulfully intrigued
by the black magic of its wonder cloaking its radiance
in robes to turn down the light enough to see in the dark.
Paradoxes, oxymorons, ambiguities, doubts, nuances
that pour poison in your ear like sinister love potions,
lightning flickering like a snake over the rose-garden
abusing its fangs like a choker of thorns so death never forgets
it’s never very far from beauty, not the labyrinth
of counter intuition that’s fallen into habitual conceptualism
or the despair of a man who hasn’t realized yet
that if he’s singing it isn’t a false dawn, not
the flypaper lacquered with sticky sentiments
as if it shared the same chromosomes with Venus,
not the ferocious blackholes that make farcical absurdities
of following the light over our event horizons
to go pearl diving for singular moonrises
you can’t bring to the surface to show anybody,
despite the mental lampblack and creosote of wet fires,
looking at the world through a glass darkly,
the inexhaustibility of that early beginning
has never grown weary or disappointed with me
though the person who purports to be me often has.
There’s a voice. It speaks in a language of things.
A hidden secret that wanted to be known so chaos
created a universe to communicate like a mother tongue
the atoms share with the atmans. Stars with the dark
and the silence. You hear it once and you’re
singing it for life the long way home knowing
the light doesn’t need to take short-cuts. That
it’s touched you with a vastness that annihilates measure.
You’re nothing. You’re everything. You’re so
creatively free to express the mystery of this awareness
after sleeping on it like wine for awhile, you begin
to feel grateful when you wake that you’re meaningless.
Comments about this poem (I'd Rather Learn To Sing From The River And The Wind by Patrick White )
People who read Patrick White also read
Top 500 Poems
The Road Not Taken
If You Forget Me
Still I Rise
Edgar Allan Poe
William Ernest Henley
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings