Relatively Painless Day Poem by Patrick White
Relatively painless day. Half sunlight
smothered by grey. Don’t expect mercy
from the way life kills without regard
for the nervous system of its prey.
Sunday in a small town with thirty churches.
Secular kindness releasing oxytocin.
Civilization, not wheat, or temple,
but the fire that gathered people
with nothing but stories on their hands
while their meat cooked for easier digestion.
Bachelor buttons in the Neanderthal grave
of a child. Prophetic skulls buried under
the hearthstones like a calendar of the dead.
When did we last consult them? Now
is the hunting ground they set out alone
to discover. Envoys to the afterlife we
enacted on their advice as if it were real.
We had embassies there with paper-shredders
that called themselves priests. A new way
to eat the body of the god buried in the corner
of the field we fertilized like a ouiji board
to yield all the answers to the randomness
of the weather. Agriculture began to reform
the consumers. From now on the vines
were on trellises. The brown, gas giants
among the planets, who couldn’t shine
by a light of their own had shepherd moons.
The executioners offered anaesthetic
to the condemned man they were about to kill
and the church handed over unconfessed heretics
to the expedient firemasters of the law
at an auto-de-fe to burn. They couldn’t
have blood on their hands and live
up to the ten commandments. Or down
if you understand how arrogant hypocrites are.
They still stone women in Pakistan
for seeking knowledge as far as a cellphone,
like glass houses that have never sinned
bruising the flesh of a miscreant with
a meteor shower, space-junk in orbit,
determined to fall from their dark haloes
and wipe out a species according to the law
that lived like they had a god under their thumb.
How long does it take a thought to travel
from one neuron to the next? Or water
need a map to find its way around
an irrigation ditch, or woman be sacrificed
at the altar of her own dark mystery,
a divinely sanctioned death, paternalistic as hell,
or murder if you think it’s got nothing to do with God.
Regard the chaos of extreme conditioning.
We take the stories more seriously than
the unsayable they were meant to point out
like a negative space with an affirmative voice
that wasn’t listening to what we told ourselves
before the meat was cooked. You’re going
to sup with the devil you better eat
with a long spoon below the salt. Or there’s
no purgatory for you as if you were on
probation in death. I can’t believe as a child
I was originally sinful or that I was equally
innocent in an isolation cell. I learned
to carve loaded dice out of my bones in order
to survive to pay the slumlord who listened
to all that jive, and wondered if I did too.
I sing lullabies to lovelorn razor-blades
that took a vow on the sword they’d
placed between them to conjugate the verb
I love in Latin. In public. On the radio.
So Hux Huxley, editor of Florilegium,
cousin to Aldous and Julian, wasn’t disappointed
with the dying classics I studied with him
beside the aquarium of Australian stick insects
who didn’t know that all Corinthians
were liars at heart and I am a Corinthian
can you believe that, dedicated to getting
at the truth through a spurious art
of Moebius metaphors, like snakes
that eat themselves up to the head
and then what do they do if not go beyond that
even broken, the circle remains intact
as if the rain made it, or the tree rings
make solar systems that jump orbitals
in the heartwood of a willow that looks
better by night than at the beach by day.
I take things so seriously, boy, do I ever, I play
when things get me down in a small town on a Sunday.
Patrick White's Other Poems
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Comments about this poem (Relatively Painless Day by Patrick White )
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