Patrick White

Rookie (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)

Because I Don'T Confront You - Poem by Patrick White

Because I don't confront you
doesn't mean this tree
doesn't know how to stand up to the wind.
If I bend like a river reed in a current
I'll still be here
long after the current has passed.
To the unenlightened it's inconceivable
there's nothing to win
because both opposites are empty.
Take empty from empty it's still empty.
No reason to put a gun to your head to check it out.
Just because you've got a trigger
like the first crescent of the moon
doesn't mean you have to pull it.
Three for three.
Blood and cartridges.
Strange lipstick.
But you're still banking on the one that's empty.
Those that have the power to hurt
but will do none.
Shakespeare.
Sonnet 94.
Lonely advice to those who never take it.
And it's not hard to imagine
better things to do in the world
than trade barbs and stingers
with third world killer bees.
And there's nothing unholier than a holy war.
Or a faith that festers
because it doesn't know
how to clean a wound properly.
Even maggots make better nurses than that.
And besides
as unlikely as it seems at times
I'd rather be loved than right.
I don't want to lie down with a woman at night
like a body count.
You say I'm not in touch with reality
as if reality were some kind of guillotine
you expected me to stick my neck out for
swanning on the block.
No.
I don't stay in touch much
with French executioners.
But I can see the world as you see it.
A snakepit with the occasional apple-tree.
You think of reality as a hard medicine
you have to wince like a lemon to take
but if you ask me
the way you put it
reality sounds more like a toxin
than the antidote to the snake.
If the kids don't like it then neither do I.
The iodine you pour on things
hurts worse than the original scrape.
The cure is more delirious than the disease.
You see the black door of the prison
and you want to paint it pink.
You realign the constellations
like barbed wire around a concentration camp
and reality drives up like the commandant
of what you think
to announce to the inmates
they're in the real world now
where iron rules
and the watchdogs never sleep.
What happy fool
bemused by watching his illusions
chase their tails
and play with snakes
is going to turn his delusion in
for something as stern as that?
An ideologue is someone
whose spirit is weaker than their intellect
and ideas pack like cholesterol around their hearts
and harden like plack on their teeth.
Someone who is terminally ideational
thinks of reality as a kind of rehabilitation
for the rest of us.
A man asks for water in a desert of stars.
An ideologue offers him bleach
as if he were redressing an incorrigible wino
for giving up on reality.
And when he talks of reform
it's like listening to a dvd
giving step by step instructions
in how to turn a chameleon into an albino.
And I see something of the same in you.
Ideologues are appalled by the sloppiness of life.
They see it as something to organize
not something to create.
They hate the suggestible mysteries
that never quite come into focus.
They want to refit the Flying Dutchman
with real sails and upgraded astrolabes.
They loathe the Uncertainty Principle
at work in their atoms and their evolution.
They look at beauty as ornamentalism.
There's nothing functional about a sunset.
Even out in the country
I've heard them scolding life
for squandering itself on a flower.
Wild asters and loosestrife
are merely a silly extravagance
and there are so many stars at night
you'd think life was running a casino.
When you tell me I should get in touch with reality
I feel I should be looking for some ultimate
behind everything
some ulterior way of understanding life
that illegitimizes everything under my nose
as mere phenomena and appearance.
The rat behind the arras.
The meaning of things
that makes things irrelevant
as if what my senses perceived
were mere wrapping.
When I look at things
as if there were no inside or out
to them or me
I see the creative contents
and events of a mind
that belongs to all of us.
And there isn't a thought or a thing
that doesn't express the whole of it.
Delusion and enlightenment
share the same nature I do.
The star is as much me
as I am the star
so when I say the stars have opened my eyes
to how exalted you can feel
when you're humbled
by the sublime lucidity of life
my eyes have done as much for them.
You want to put life on a diet.
And time on a budget.
Usually when someone tells me to be realistic
I'm talking to a conservative
who's in denial about the future.
Nature is nurture
and no one's ever left the womb
but there are available dimensions
in the dark backward abysm of time
that's been maturing us for the last
fourteen and a half billion years
out of our own inconceivability
like wine
not vinegar
into this sublime creative collaboration
which is the life of the mind.
Whatever we create
simultaneously and seamlessly creates us.
It's a child's drawing.
There are no flaws in it.
What's unrealistic about a purple sun?
Lebanese cochineal shells
for the togas of the Roman imperium.
The emperor's got no clothes.
So you dress him up in your nakedness
and paint his portrait in purples and blues
and ask Caligula to lend him some shoes.
It's a dynamic equilibrium of transformations.
It's a living cosmic harmony
that's as mystically specific and intimate
as a snowflake melting on your arm.
The dead branch blossoms
like a witching stick
whenever it's near water
and the magician's wand sheds its skin
like serpent-fire on the wind.
These things are true too.
Anything the Inconceivable
does or reveals
is always spontaneous
because there is no way of predicting it.
Every dropp of water
that opens itself like an eye
in the infinite sea of awareness
is merely water watching water
shift its shape into fish and trees and humans.
The river turns
and the zodiacal kings of the Etruscans
bow down to Vertumamnis
who will grow up to be kidnapped by the Romans
and raised as Morpheus the god of dreams.
Or Orpheus among the Greeks
if he dreams while he's awake.
If life weren't creatively inconceivable
we couldn't have been born into it
to conceive of the unthinkable.
It's the empty cup that pours the wine.
It's the mystery
that all our answers are looking for.
When I look at the stars
though they're arranged in constellations
to me they are never endlessly one thing
but radiant with beginnings
going off in all directions at once.
You speak of reality
as if it were the negative
of a photographic starmap
elapsed by time.
You're an equatorial mount with clock drive
and a colour-blind spectrograph
where your third eye used to be.
Thirteen ways of looking at the same blackbird.
Meaning infinite.
And they're all true.
I am.
And so are you.
And what's a blackbird
if it isn't the primordial atom
the many in the one
nuclear fusion
the muse and the inspiration
all the combinations and permutations
of the way it will continue to be seen anew
in every moment
as if it will always be the beginning of creation?
Six trillion miles in a light-year.
And Proxima Centauri 4.7 light years away.
The next star over unfencible time and space.
You look at the insurmountability of these distances
and you think that's how far it is from here to there
and your isolation brings you to the precipice of despair
when your omnidirectional self
looks creation in the face
and mistakes humility for insignificance everywhere.
And you say to yourself
there's no point or place
for a period
at the end of an infinite sentence.
And you make a brutal discipline of your irrelevance
and call it reality
and the dead begin to legislate for the living
and the blind for those who can see.
Van Gogh said it best in a letter to Theo.
Some people live their lives
as if they were walking to the stars.
Some take the train.
And some fly.
For the birds
nothing's ever further away
than their wingspan
as it is with fish and fins.
And turning the jewel in the light
and looking at its infinite flashes of insight
without the glass eye
of a Cyclopean appraiser
cut it up atomically
like a butcher or a surgeon
deciding on where to make the next incision
I would add that like a star
even after billions of years on the road
whose light never really leaves home
because everywhere it goes
it's in the doorway
on the threshold
because there's no discontinuity
no distinction
no severance
between a ray of light and its source
between a way of life and its course
there's a fourth kind of pilgrim
who just has to look up at the stars
or the sun and the moon
or Venus luxuriating in the sunset
if he wants to shine down on everything.
So if I don't confront you like a bottom-feeder
on the floor of your thinktank
rising to the surface
like a scumbag to high public office
it's not because I'm a coward or a fool.
It's just that I'm enrolled
in this funny kind of school
where you learn through experience
to use your ignorance
as a teaching device
to enlighten the Buddha.
What's water to the goldfish
is water to the barracuda
without and within
every wave of water light and life
the whole sea of awareness at high tide
the whole sky with all its myriads of stars
tattooed on the skin of a water droplet
that thinks it's tough
to stick pins through the eye of an inkwell
like an Oedipal voodoo doll
with Medusan issues
because she never had a mother
who didn't turn her heart to stone.
Water is fish.
Fish is water.
Air is bird.
Bird is air.
Earth is worm.
Worm is earth.
And fire is a phoenix that nests in its own ashes.
And you can ask the moon
if you don't believe me.
Sometimes the water
makes a quick exit
and swims out of you
like tears and light-years of neap tides
but there's never going to come a time
whether you measure it in lunar months
or waterclocks
or the wavelengths of a snake-pit
you're ever going to swim out of it.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 5, 2012

Poem Edited: Sunday, October 21, 2012


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