Like A Child That's Burnt Its Hand - Poem by Patrick White
Like a child that’s burnt its hand experimenting with matches,
testing your sympathy, suffering in its innocence,
to see if you understand there are rattlesnakes
under the rose-bushes, and they both have thorns,
as the moon sheds its scales on the lake
that turns them into feathers when it’s in
the right mood, kisses the burn and makes
it better, as if your lips were two scars coming together,
I don’t cry out to the fixed stars anymore
thinking anyone’s there to take notice of the hurt.
I don’t turn women into mothers with me
as their only child. Black roses no less
I don’t bring them bouquets of bladder wort.
If a woman isn’t far seeing enough to spot me
in the crowd like the Hubble telescope
toward the oldest, fastest, darkest galaxies
she’s just a mere window to keep the cold out
and let a little light in when there’s light to be had
in the middle of winter. Her eyes don’t
touch me dangerously, there’s no creative mystery
in the way she speaks to me like the Pacific ocean
in a storm or kingfishers flying all over the place
like flakes of halycon blue soothing the waves.
There’s healing in the left breast of the Medusa’s
most ancient body cells, and tumours in the right.
The antidote’s in the last crescent of the moon.
The Milky Way not the issue of mammary glands.
Who could look at a woman that way without
a heart of stone back in the Burgess Shale?
If she takes you for a lover, you’ve got to be equal
to the horror and the lust. You’re never going to find
a winged horse in a bird cage made for the heart.
Woman’s what beautiful about being fashioned of starmud.
There is no other image you were created in,
no earth, no night, no sky, no art, as the angels
stood around and marvelled at the names you gave her,
the metaphors you kept compounding into light
as everywhere she walked the Periodic Table of Elements
was set like a garden with underground rivers
and a candle of a firefly or a star to slay death
for a moment in the hourglass figure of the beauty of life.
She’s the crone, the nymph, the nubile witch,
the abyss, the dark mother you return to. She’s
water that burns like the fire of hot tears
in the shedding of the leaves, in the wedding
of her blossoms to a windfall of overjoyed orchards.
You draw a sword from the stone. She draws
a bell that mourns and celebrates your coming
and your going, a door on one hinge
like a lapwing that’s trying to distract you
from yourself as you try to square the round table
like a line you drew in the sand. Assessment hour.
You were lacking for the longest time weren’t you?
Draw a line in the sand. Dare the wind.
If she got the better of you, you didn’t give your best.
I’m not talking about slavery here. No
quisling metrosexual with gender confusion
who smells as if the cows just ate deadly nightshade.
Love is genderless and the law follows suit.
She’s Bellatrix in Orion. She’s the first sphinx
at Gobekli Tepe that we know of like a lioness
that does all the hunting, the bitch that leads
the wolfpack, or lures the barnyard dogs
with her pheromones lingering in the air
like low-hanging fruit the mutt can’t resist.
To be torn apart like a stuffed boy having a temper tantrum.
Hic sunt dracones and blood sports with the heart as a goat.
She’s three bells on the quarter deck and all is well.
The moon lies down on the water
like the Silk Road to a vocal mulberry bush.
And then the silence of a sandstorm coming
in the deserts of the moon blind as the stars
to the havoc they cause on earth. Unforseeable
circumstances that burn the bridges and filaments out
in the light bulb of a good idea. The wicks
and antennae, the lightning rods of a billion fireflies
all going off at once like ladyfingers
or a Gatling gun on the Sioux at Wounded Knee.
One moment you’re having tea with her
mending cracks in the cup with gold as if
you were repairing your own synarthritic skull
or a continent at a Chanoyu Tea Ceremony on Pangaea,
and the next there are volcanoes of dark matter
connecting the dots along a fault line
of separatist feelings that can read between
the gaps of the mountains on the moon in eclipse
like Bailey’s diamonds, hard and cutting as the mind.
She’s to be celebrated, if that’s at all possible.
She’s to be trusted like a muse not a precedent.
She’s to be feared like a blasting cap in a beaver dam
or the beginning of wisdom. She’s the dark mother
of her own inner child for the child’s sake.
She’s the healer of your scarred medicine bags
and she knows what herbs to look for like
silver green Usnea lapponica on the forest floor
as if the moon were in the corals and she made
a lichen tincture for a Zen tea totaller allergic to penicillin.
I owe as much to women as I do windows
and wide open night skies exotic with
Spartan stars culling the helots as the sun
does asteroids. They’ve taught me to keep
things to myself like the private life
of a sad mystery that isn’t trying to cultivate
an audience. Emotions deeper than poetry,
more radioactive than fish bleeding from their gills,
or somebody standing too close to the ricochet
of a rifle shot before the firing squads of the stars,
blind folded no less and not allowed to smoke
as the sentence was carried out against
the unwilling heretic for the good of his soul.
I have been untrue to myself to be faithful
to them. And I haven’t lived long or down enough
to regret it yet. A vow of silence doesn’t
echo in a nightclub, and the shadows in the mirror
put their fingers to their lips as if time
were creeping by like a sundial in love
with the moon on the far side of its dead seas.
And it’s not a matter of grace, not
a stray hair from the head of an imaginable
aristocrat in pursuit of an earthly excellence
by coming down off his high horse like a king
who lived among the peasants, so much as a way
of honouring what I’ve learned of love
and how binary stars learn to dance around
one another like a seance to the trines
and the first violins of an exorcism waltzing
with the willows down by the river
that doesn’t give a damn where it’s going
as long as it’s flowing seaward against its own current.
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