Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
My Life And Work
My life and work as much the oeuvre
of all the poems I didn’t write as those
that made an impression upon my voice
like the Burgess Shales, a firefly
flowering on the wind from a seed,
the lapwing of a gate on one hinge
someone left open years ago for me
to walk through now into the high fields
between the lyrical vetch in the grass
and the picture-music of the stars.
Myriads of simple things I never
laboured at nor mastered like how
to treat my heartwood like a real craftsman
instead of rooting it in a long line of beginnings
on a clear cut slope of a mountain like a tree
or a nightstream that just got on with me
like a leaf drifting on my own mind
as if the point of every wavelength of the journey
were the going and the going were the destination
I arrived and departed from every instant of my life.
If I’ve had to live at times like a black hole
in absolute stillness like the pupil of an eye
or a trap door spider that locked itself out,
how else could I have come to understand
that isolation and darkness are two jewels
of an underworld where the dead are full of surprises
like the urns of angels with a message of ashes
that heralds the demonic like an aniconic oracle
of the new moon that resides in each of us
like the tooth of a dragon we’ve sown at first crescent?
Never felt the need to make a dolmen out of it
and hang it around my neck like a talisman
I could shapeshift with my fingers when I was
scared and alone in a house of life that was built
from the ceiling down with somebody else’s hands.
A tent’s always seemed a more habitable planet to me
than cement. The deportable thresholds of the homeless
more a passport to the promise land,
than the forged documents of a denatured citizen
who alienates his own humanity to belong
to the effluvial detritus of whatever’s left
as if an atlas were anymore real than a colouring book.
Getting mad. No. Not Now. Won’t do. Won’t do.
This is one of my more abstruse meditative moods.
I want to stay clear, peaceful. Like a mud puddle
enraptured by the serenity of the stars that bloom
like waterlilies in the eyes of fractured mirrors
without getting lost in the distances between us
like a lifeboat too far from the hill in the fog
to hear anyone calling as if they were desperately praying
are you there, are you there, were you ever there
or are you just another hidden secret that wanted
to be known, and you were, and drowned in your own despair
at the thought of something that couldn’t be undone?
The shadows are getting longer than the things
they represent but never embodied and it makes me
so sad so much has to die unfulfilled because
it never stood up to the light within it
as if there were nothing to be afraid of
or the sunflowers wouldn’t raise their heads
to make eye-contact with the face behind their masks
we all wear as if it were mystically tailored for us.
In the expanding space of an abyss as big as the universe
and yet, somehow, seems dwarfed by the human heart
throwing cornflowers and roses into a grave
because they say better than we do, what must remain
unsayable to us though it’s well understood
what a flashbulb our time is here on earth
standing on the red carpet of the bloodstream
that’s been rolled out for us like a poppy in a dream,
what strange music arises out of the heart
when it learns to cherish the things that life
no less than death, is indifferent to. As long
as there’s a space for one drop of compassion
in your art, even a genius far greater by comparison
will seem like a fool beside you as the entire universe
fits you like a skin it’s growing out of like an eye
about to break into tears when you’re mourning
for the world like a homesick farewell. And autumn comes.
The thief leaves the moon in the window
as he usually does, and love, hang on to love
as long as you can, and when it’s gone
so deep inside you like a waterbird disappearing
into the twilight, try to remember we’re
a vaporous kind of sentience, evanescently aware
we’re pilgrims of fire on a long road of smoke
to the shrines of the stars to perfect our solitude.
Don’t try to climb your burning ladders
like a snake of scarlet runners up to heaven
just stretch your wings out and try to ride
the thermals of serpent fire at the base of your spine
like the cinder of a red-tailed hawk in the third eye
of the sun, or a dragon, if you want to have some real fun.
Don’t try to turn back the helical lifespans
of the waterclocks. The shadows of time
are softened by the patina of the moon on our eyelids.
The peaks and the valleys of anyone’s life
eventually fall into each other’s empty arms
like quantumly entangled annihilations of place and time,
bright vacancy, dark abundance, the two become one
and the one, well, you’ve got eyes, see for yourself.
Comments about this poem (My Life And Work 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
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
William Ernest Henley