And Should I Ask Forgiveness - Poem by Patrick White
And should I ask forgiveness, who do I ask it of
and for what, being unredemptively what I must be?
Descending into moonset or failing to rise?
Maybe my eyes let the stars down somehow,
for all the years I've been intrigued by their shining,
sat by rivers in the deep woods, cherished their names
like the legends of jewels in a thousand and one Arabian nights,
but wasn't dark enough inside to feel them
burning in my blood, reconfigured like a starmap
that turned the light around so they could see,
not just the radiance, but how I've embodied
their shadows as well. No part left out, included
so many eyeless nights, so many occultations and eclipses,
the broken plinths of the all the sorrows of a lifetime
attached like thorns to the charred rose of my heart.
I was the child whose innocence was cast aside
like a momento mori of a lethal sword dance
that wished without intent I was buried along with it
because it was pain to look upon me and remember
the union of blood indissolubly holding hands in me
when I was a symbol of happier, more hopeful times
and it didn't hurt so much to love me. Human enough
in the mysterious irony of being cast out
like the collateral damage of incommensurable lovers
trying to turn their evanescence into tangible flesh.
By seven, I was already a failed experiment
and the sea that surrounded me like an island,
a desert of salt on an alien planet for wounded pariahs
that had been driven out by other people's sins of omission
at the cleansing of the temples. One of the untouchables.
I hope it's wisdom that it doesn't matter much anymore.
That I don't accuse the universe for the way things are
and, perhaps, who knows, had to be because
that's the way they irrevocably happen when paradise
is flawed enough to have a falling out with itself.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger for more of the same.
You end up ploughing a garden on the moon with a bayonet
to avoid the plagues of locusts that beset the earthbound.
You come to regret your strengths in a left-handed solitude
that leaves you stuttering like the vocal cord of a nightbird
struck by lightning like a weathervane in the heartwood
of a burning guitar. Absolute among zeroes your compassion
grows cold as the world view of a telescope
with a diamond lens that will eventually melt
if you look at the stars long enough from a parapet
on a palace of salt where your mindstream meets the sea
like a waterclock of myriad moments where time
has no future to speak of and the past is the mere muttering
of troubled rocks in their sleep in a homeless shelter
for dispossessed rivers of thought, besieged by exiles.
Once you've suffered through your own life enough
your eyes are clarified, though you don't know why or how,
by the blood that's been flowing from them for lightyears
like the secret wound of a prescient mirror
that picks up the pieces of a war torn chandelier
and reassembles them into the shattered menagerie
of a starmap smeared by the silver lipstick
of morning snails fallen to the ground like the dew
of dirty kisses sticky with life in a Sunday cemetery
where the dead are buried like teen age Neanderthals
with gravestones on their chest under an avalanche of cherubs
the ice and the rain are performing crude autopsies on
like the cadavers of roadkill along the byways back to heaven.
That said. A young man shows up at my door,
at eight in the morning, a brain-blasted poet,
surfing his dopamines like a shipwreck jumping
from plank to plank in a torrent of free association
to borrow fifty cents and read me a poem
he's written for me in praise of an elder mentor.
Not bad for a voodoo doll in a bullfight with a matador,
pierced through the heart by the seven swords of the sun.
He used to belong to a cult of treacherous doves
but now he realizes how clearly the fire of love
burns in the solitary intensities of a cold-hearted dragon
that never wasted his life by not telling him the truth
about being driven out of the nest like a scapegoat
bearing the impurities of wingless serpents
that sting like poisons crazing your heart
with the terror of going mad alone like a mirage
in a desert of salt with an open wound that pours you out
like the taste of bad water, toxic as the skull of the moon.
I can tell by by the unhallowed soil, the carved turtle,
the crow feathers he's placed in the medicine bags
under his eyes, he's suffering. He's disintegrating
like the golden ratio on the event horizon of a black hole
pulling him down into the grave of his messianic devastation.
He talks about the anti muses of his creative dismemberment
as if things were about to go Orphic. He's bitter and resentful
but tries to pale his feelings like black dwarfs
in the dawn of transcending everyone he's ever tried to love
who's misunderstood him, through the new salvation
he's discovered in his heart like the false promises
of poetry and painting. I listen, unemotionally compassionate
as if I were thirty years younger than tomorrow.
He says he's amazed I've lived as long as I have
like a hermetic revelation in a cosmic cave in a desert of stars
which makes me feel like an astronomical gnostic gospel,
but I can read the loss, the sorrow, the confusion in his eyes
like a dead language no one's ever spoken before.
And it wasn't a bad poem at all, so I say,
by way of returning the gesture like a subliminal question
trying to play on my vanity like light on the surface
as if I still had any faith left in my susceptibility:
Young, you're a passionately, excitable mammal
apprenticed to the evanescence of your heart.
Older, and more of a non-entity than when you were born
you look upon this long discipline of life and art
through the clear eyes of a master of selfless beginnings
with the equanimity of a reptile born of rock.
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