Patrick White

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

By The Time You Say It - Poem by Patrick White

By the time you say it, you're a bridge beyond the last river of your lament.
Is there meaning in this, content? Emerging
from this cold oceanic reflection, how good
to wrap the sky around you like a blue woolen robe warmed by a fire,
your lungs two bag-ladies sorting through the trash
of your denuded coffin for any rumour of green.
A back-alley dog sniffs at your limp smile beside a broken wineglass.
Your passions turn into mouths and eat you; your heart
mistakes itself for the apple on the tree of knowledge
and dreads the approach of Eve. Today, for example, over coffee on Gore St.
(just so the peasants don't storm the moat again,
thinking we don't know where we're at)
I heard you wondering why the moon always ends in et cetera.
Just to distract you from gnashing your teeth in the void
and sticking your flavourless gum messiah
to the underside of the flat earth, I showed you a picture of the wind's face
I painted under an overpass on primeval concrete.
A fascist restauranteur enraged by the ulcers on his greed
preached his disease to an unwilling congregation of tables
and jackaled our money away to the squat god of his digital scripture.

Fascinated and hurt, you surveyed the distant puppet-masters
of your own hormonal attachments assemble and reassemble
like constellations at a crossroads and then
got up to give your sad friend an embrace on her birthday,
fingerprinting your own sorrow with someone else's hand. The albino sun
high above, opening doors and burning thresholds, was proud of you
as I liberated another orphanage in your honour.
People on wheels went by, more nonsensical than this watershed of pain
that pushes up a mad flower of poetry
through the startled soil of an intimate, unknown planet
hanging from the first crescent of the moon like a dropp of water
on a blade of radiant star-grass. You. Above the turmoil
of your blood-weather. And now the vast night
crowds into the asylum of my ancient, weeping windows
and the lamps go on like recovering suicides, their light
experimenting with brown-out dosages of prozac
like something electrical trying to live. Alone again on the deck
of an ark of phantoms beached by the flood
on this brutal world-mountain, my field of vision
is heaped with the skulls and skeletons of warrior dragons
who died true to a door that never opened. And if you listen hard enough
you can hear a secret priesthood of serpents
singing the melancholic lyrics of their eerie toxins in lethal shrines
under the foundation-stones of untenable temples
abandoned to a slum of birds, fractured stairs and pillars
a crusade of minerals on their way home, liberated by an infidel.

Is it continuous or do we make it so; the last fifty years of my life
devoted like a lover to the strange face in the moonlight
that beckons me deeper and deeper into her shining as if I were no more
than a ray of her manifestation, each feeling moment
whole to the furthest star, every thought
sufficient as fire, quiescent, an event of fabulous proportions. It's true
things change and change is a clock without hands.
Here now in the jewelled fish nets of satiated gods
that trawl the mind-sea for luminous, translucent fish
that have schooled into vagrant poems
for a gesture of provisional expression
timeless as now, I stop and bend like light to show you
how the black water-lilies are night mirrors
returning your eyes like water to the river. And yet,
most astounding of all, there is neither you nor I to witness it,
nor anything that swims like the language of a lost people
through these imagined depths, not even the gust of a god
over the stillness of the waves. Consciousness is the shadow of a living intelligence
whose awareness and being are purposeless flower and star,
all the worlds in every directionless direction
resplendent in the heart of a single atom, dust kicked up
by a child dancing alone in a dusky summer lane
with the scintillant gnats and fairies
whose lives are neither brief nor long, born or perishing.

Here, by this road of ghosts, touched by a wing,
I offer you this expansive bouquet of galaxies, endless dancers
wheeling joy into joy like love into bread. Do you see?
Nothing approaches nothing and zero gets up to dance.
There is nowhere that isn't a tree, no moment
that isn't the whole of space embracing it, everything in this event
already achieved. Why grieve then as if there were holes in the world
when everything you fall into, someone's else's face,
the violet oceans of an orchid heart, this trance of enlightened play
is nothing more than your own footprint on an Arab moon
full of intoxicated rain. Gently, I lay your heavy head
upon the doorsill of your lover and for the moment, an elder of the wind,
whisper nightbirds of ecstatic seeing
into your abundant emptiness. The point is
that there is no point that isn't already the whole of the radiant point
drawing long caravans, burdened with gifts for a bride,
out of the dream deserts of her lostness and longing
like a star dictating love poems to a viper-scribe in the sand. Just look
at the labour of these fools who contrive a hovel out of a palace
and consult their blood like mud at the mirage of an oasis
for fishtracks. Here, I'll sing it again on a page of water
because you are more beautiful and intelligent than the ones
who stand at the gate and swear by dawn
the light shall not pass, because your suffering is transcendence,
the original home of the many who make one face without flaw,
because I am drunk on the whiskey-fire of autumn leaves
even as the spring tunes its green harps to the high-pitched valley hearts
of ascending birds, every one a nugget of sun panned
from the empty pockets of a generous dawn,
because great sleepwalking moons of faith
are shedding your eyelids like skies and rose petals
releasing mysterious fragrances of time
in the narrow alleys of medieval Bombay where blue-white stars
feed their growing families by cobbling their tongues
like new leather fixed with nails of light
to the worn-out sandals of pilgrim gods on the Perfume Trail,
because even though there is suffering, ignorance, folly and greed,
and death enough to glut any neon highway vacancy,
and hitch-hiking saviours galore to lie down with in darkness
and rise in the light on magic-finger mattresses,
because there is no less of your whole celestial orchard
in the butterfly that lands on a dead branch
like one of your smiles
than there is in all the thundering worlds
that fall like windfall apples or wild horses cantering through the night,
because most people's seeing is a kind of love blind to music
and you are rarer than a radioactive strawberry in that regard,
the divergent snake-roads of your witching-wands, violins of water,
and because your great insight grows a secret heart within the heart
of an embryo word and nudges it into flight,
the ripening celebration in the heart of a dazzled bird
hurled from a thousand nests like rice from a begging bowl
to express the joy she is
at the fathomless wedding of bride and water, drunkard and unknowing wine,
I'll lift my voice again to you and sing.

A black snake swims across the leprous face of the moon
unwrapping her bandages on the water like music
to reveal her concealed beauty to no one.
Isis and the Sphinx cry out like loons.
A singing water-lily offers its severed head on a prophetic platter
to the breeze of a dancing girl, mistress of veils,
who toys with the weakness of kings.
On the slightest tongue of the rain, a feast of maggots and stars.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2012

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