Patrick White

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

Blackberries And Salmon - Poem by Patrick White

Blackberries and salmon. Sea-logged books of sitka spruce
drying like an expurgated library in the sun.
I'll never forgive what went on out of the corner of my eye
like a wolf spider weaving a space-time continuum
over the black hole of a guitar carved out of my heartwood
to play desperately sad songs under my breath,
or the pods of blackfish that came in on the tide
to upend my flotilla of lifeboats. Matriculated Eden,
I owe half my childhood to pears yellowing in the moonrise
of abandoned orchards. Dusty blue patina on the plums,
nothing worse than misery in paradise, waking up
in the land of the lotus-eaters, imperial teachers
mean with under reaching their unappreciated selves
two masts down like rungs on the rope ladders
of the British navy moored to its trophy lines,
saline and sour about having to make it big provincially
in the London of the Pacific, born dead on arrival.

For many years I was a by stander in my own country,
happy if some beknighted nitwit patronized me
for disappointing his colonial expectations
of never being surpassed by an excellence he couldn't disown.
Supercilious waterclocks on Greenwich Mean Time,
I was closer to the dateline than the prime meridian,
but everybody entertained an imported point of view
like Japanese fishing buoys that washed ashore
among the kelp and the cormorants after they
almost drowned, when the tug-boats died of exhaustion
hauling the British Empire up on beach
like the corpse of a whale with no message
from a celestial fortune-cookie stowed away inside.

Fish straight from the docks, potatoes
from the processing plant on Market Street
that scraped, bruised, keel-hauled and gouged them
like asteroids in the Oort belt rinsing off their starmud
for bagging, and the little old ladies of the Uplands
among their broom and lilac, their sunburnt arbutus
peeling off gnostic gospels of skin, as my mother
bleached her knuckles and knees like a lobster
thrown into the boiling point live as she screamed
like the San Andreas fault for revolutionary earthquakes
to put an end to washing her misery off their kitchen floors
and throwing out good food, far too rich for the poor.

I begged for her disarmingly, flaunting the expertise
of my innocence. Peanut butter by the bucketful,
I looked for castaway beer bottles in the Sikh woodlots
like holy grails you had to disgorge the condoms out of
like the moon shedding the phases of a snake.
I learned more about comparative religion
in the valleys of degradation than a garden on a hill of skulls.
A thief of flowers, I brought the vermillion
to the palette of her green thumb and no one asked
too many questions when the grandsons
of my mother's employer were dragged
from the golden chariots they rode through our slums
as a reminder of their mean-hearted casuistic mortality.
Deviated septums and blood-caked craniums,
but not a prophetic skull among them to read the signs.
Nothing worth wasting a good death mask on.

There are child labourers born into life whose job it is
to have no hope so the indifferent can actualize
their dreams as effortlessly as they took them for granted.
Atrocities looking for reality shows forty years later.
Hydrocephalic perverts asking for a change of waiters.
Reading Mesopotamian history as escapist literature,
I learned to take the absurd in stride with unassuming nonchalance
as my mother burnt the last piece of furniture
to keep the furnace alive like a domestic crematorium.
Evening in Paris perfumes in mystically blue bottles,
new paints for the calling she gave up
like a futuristic fossil of the life she would never
return to, stored in portly steamer trunks
that never made the crossing back to paradise
like a salmon run trying to swim back up Mt. Kosciusko.

Not a horror story you couldn't resist, but I wouldn't want you
to meet my father after he'd drank away every advantage in life,
unlike his kids, to end up topping trees in a logging camp
outside Jordan River, where the cougars were known
to jump through the windows, and he tore the door down
to teach my mother to bleed appropriately
like an emergency ambulance for kicking him out.
Hell of a man. Though he never suffered as much
with a chain saw in his hands as we did
wondering which of a hundred compound eyes
with multiple lenses for hospital windows
our mother was in when we looked up to see
if we were orphans at the mercy of uniformed social workers
with no idea how to live, and less how to love
like the bitch mother of a litter of timber wolves
howling outside her room, down below, live, please, live.
Not that it made much of a difference to the arachnids.

Light years away dusk must surely have fallen by now
like California poppies and the wild sea roses.
The shaggy garments of the western red cedars
stripped bare to the limbs as someone plays a xylophone
like a log boom knocking bones on the headstones
in a drowned sailor's cemetery. A roll of the dice
and the breakers are all froth and spume against the rocks
in the back alleys of the Times Colonist loading docks
gambling at lunch for another chance to lose big time.

Five dead men by the age of seven my eyes
were undertakers calloused by the diffident glare of death
trying to mean too much to a child who couldn't care less.
Less soggy stars out east than there, but they
were the first magnitude mermaids on the rocks
to sing to me about an ocean of light I could plausibly
drown in off the coasts of my island galaxy
without ever remorsefully turning the tide against me.

There are those who go along with the stream
even when it's an undertow and those who hug the shore
like arthopods and sand fleas clicking like stone castanets
who never learned to dance with wings on their heels.
Those who swim and those who burrow like toledo worms
in the hulls of landlocked ships that have never sailed the moon
and rust like blood leaking from the eye holes of their anchors.
Even in a Pacific storm it's not wise to seek shelter
from your homelessness for fear of dying in a lighthouse.

Chaos is always a habitat bigger than any mere domicile
could ever understand without going under like a dolphin
in a fishing net translated by happenstance into a constellation
on a blue star globe between Vulpecula, the fox, and Pegasus,
the flying horse, with Job's Coffin, like the asterism
of a lifeboat buried in its heart like a Viking funeral ship
to run silent, run deep, without striking a warning
the fiddleheads of the dragons and the blackfish are back.

So many years listening to the nightwinds rave
until the squall was spent and and the turbulent dawn
returned the wheel like a zodiac to its antiquated star charts
trying to cross the bar like the last remaining threshold
of the Knights Templar burned alive at the stakes
they lashed themselves to recant their confessions
to the waterclocks in the choirs of anachronistic mermaids
not knowing what else to do with a drunken sailor
that early in the morning but pink slip his childhood
like a wild rainbow salmon putting out to sea with a warning
not to raise the colours of its skull and crossbones
among the angel fleets of its breezy Sunday regattas?


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, January 31, 2013



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