Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
I've Seen What Can Happen To People In Life
I've seen what can happen to people in life,
the broken man, his lack of will not a decision he made,
the crying child no one answered, the woman
who realized her marriage was a post-mortem effect.
Loneliness and misunderstanding so vehement,
separation so cruel, though people were only
a razor-blade apart, adolescents grown psychotically geriatric
with disappointment, yesterday's victors who saved the world
dismantled erosively like rust in dry dock, casualties
of having lived so intensely for awhile for one another,
the best steel that went through the forge of war
is beaten into ploughshares that till the moon alone
like scars that were sown, but nothing came up
because of the salt that was thrown in the wounds of Carthage.
Good people, innocent, resplendent as Monarchs
among the lilacs in the spring, the kindness of souls
that would give an evil man a moment's pause,
just enough of a taste of what it means to be human,
not to regret what he is, nor long for what he'll never be
for another ten thousand lifetimes yet, but intrigued
by being at peace with his own nature as if nothing mattered,
absolutely nothing, everything achieved by just being here
to watch the swept-winged swallows scramble
to intercept the dusk like top guns among the gnats
in aerial combat with the Bolshoi Ballet. Utterly destroyed
by a whimsicality that challenges you to find a reason
it's more merciful to lie about, than believe in.
Modes of suffering. Tones, wishbone, tuning forks
that can shatter a voice-box with a ballerina on top
like glass, elaborations of the atrocities with
university educations, that can come of knowledge
without love, green apples and gripe, with no idea
what the frost and sunlight can do to sweeten their attitude,
sharp-edged humans that can slash mirrors with their smiles,
for whom wonder and awe, even in the face
of their own awareness, never appeal to the acquisition
of manipulative facts because they don't confer power
on anyone. Graces of the imagination, Venus,
delinquently radiant in the sunset above the shopping mall,
fireflies in a valley of fog after a thunderstorm
as the stars come out to consult them like a think tank
for innovative constellations, and the richness of the air
redolent with life, as the earth releases a fragrance
you can almost see with your eyes, more indelible
than the sickly sweetness of death. Sentient delights,
raptures of awareness, the inconceivable joys of intelligence
chasing its own tail without a purpose to its play.
I've witnessed and experienced these things every day
and even on many eyeless nights of my life when I could see
but couldn't say what I was looking at because it was cloaked.
I'm not unmindful of how much kids like sugar.
How everyone yearns to live a life of happiness
they never tire of, love, as if it had pride of place
in the periodic table, a sine qua non of the elements
that sat down together around the sacred fire
at the joining of many rivers they've travelled down
from the mountain, assured of their dreams of the sea.
Peace-pipes all around, three osprey feathers in their hair.
But there's an inviolability to suffering that puts a scar
to shame, an eye on a snake that doesn't blink
even if you turn away from it like a disconsolate flute
that gives up trying to make it dance, gamma ray bursts
of experience that eradicate anything in its path,
that bury you so deeply in your sense of life,
you could open up a private school for meteor showers
and avalanches assiduously scribbling down notes
like the last words of a guru that entered satori,
but never came out of the coma again though
he talked incoherently in his sleep as if he
were chattering with squirrels and pileated woodpeckers.
I've seen starlings nest in death bells they feed
like the open mouths of the morning glory
even as they're tamping down the soil on the grave
of a man they just buried like a potato in his own starmud.
I've seen the lowest snatched like a baby rattler
right out of the cosmic egg bite the highest flying eagle
with the keenest insight right in the leg because
it forgot that innocence can be as toxic as experience
especially when you're trying to put a dragon on the road
that's oxymoronically immune to the quantum entanglements
of the moon baring her fangs like a gateway drug to bliss
you can't teach other people to run from like an anti-venom
to the rush of the thrill coursing through a nervous system
like a root fire of white lightning slowly killing you
with a tinfoil facsimile of a less enlightened life that nevertheless
shines brighter than Lucifer showing the Buddha the morning star,
doesn't it, admit it now, o my brother, my sister of the moment, confess.
I wrote once I seek the eventual forgiveness of the dark.
Not that it needed to be. But it was a place to start. And
by dark I don't mean the ghoulish antics of teenagers
digging up corpses like dogs in the cemeteries of Smith Falls
and smearing black lipstick across their mouths. Ooo, bad,
black bubbles without rainbows, anti-heroes of the dead,
do you ever get the bends when you're coming up
from the Gothic depths of all your ruined cathedrals?
Do things pop like a weasel when you gore your thumb
on a real thorn you hadn't anticipated like a cotton mouth
under the rosebushes someone planted around an otherwise
unremarkable gravestone? Got some advice
that probably won't do you any good to absorb
but don't cheapen the dark and it won't take you so lightly.
When you're thinking positively you can be sure
there's some negativity inciting it like a chthonic muse
pouring blood libations over the body parts
of the king of the waxing year before he evolved
a symbolic imagination. Tropical islands owe a lot
to the slag of volcanoes. You can't dis the chrysalis
without diminishing the lustre of what comes out of it.
What fool ignores the bud as any less of an event
in the life of a flower than a total eclipse
is integral to the art of being the full moon.
Panning for asteroids or the amino acids of life
it's always wise to start with the ore. Given time
diamonds can come of dandelions, a star sapphire
light up like enlightenment in the crystal skull of corundum.
Accord the same integrity to pain as you do to joy.
Like the night sea in an unexpected storm
learn to respect your own weather by turning
the wheel over to the waves like a pilot you trust
as much as chaos to navigate by the stars a way
to pass between the whirlpools and rocks of yourself
unscathed by the windfalls of anchors and liferafts
you've dropped in the water like the fruits
of what you want to be known by, inverse crucifixes
attached to chains, the first crack of light
under the eyelid of the new moon to wake up in time
to greet the ice burg like a white whale you're growing
spiritually fond of like the enigmatic co-sponsor
of a salvageable doom as a prequel to the aftermath
of the dangerous, rosey-fingered dawn keeping you afloat
one plank of your lifeboat at a time as if
you were always slumped like a half-drowned, mystic drunk
your life flashing before your eyes like fireflies in Andromeda
on the thresholds of your interminable homelessness.
Comments about this poem (I've Seen What Can Happen To People In Life by Patrick White )
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