Ever Since I Became A Poet - Poem by Patrick White
Ever since I became a poet
my whole life is an open wound
I've been bleeding out of
like a ribbon on a gift addressed to everyone.
Started out an astronomer
and then came poetry and painting.
And ever since, on days like this,
feels like I'm hanging in mid air
like Sri Lankans do to prophesy at New Year
with a great hook of a question-mark
through my gut. And I do. I prophecy
just to get a grip on the blinding pain.
Probably prophesy too much.
Wish I was talented enough to say nothing
and wasn't compelled to scream out like this in agony
like a screech owl with blood on its claws
and huge wise eyes that can see in the dark.
End times. Sixty three years closer
to being reborn again as someone
I can identify with. And the stars have aged
a lot slower than I have. I look back.
I look omnidirectionally ahead like a star
and when I feel like a wolf, wild, free, alert and wary,
what a long, dangerous, dark, strange, radiant trip it's been,
but when I'm a salmon, in the Druidic sense of the word,
It seems I've been swimming upstream most of my life
through a fluid, shapeshifting waterclock
of a space-time continuum that summons me
like a ghost to a seance where I spiritually spawn and die.
Arta longa; vita brevis. All things expire
in the same creative medium they were born from
and came closest to mastering. Like childhood.
Fame was a temptation in the beginning
but only as an aid to intriguing women
with the exquisite ferocity of my ability
to suddenly break into stars when things were their darkest.
Women have always been the gates
to the land of enlightenment for me,
the window with the view that opens out
onto whole new vistas of God so encompassingly beautiful
half the time their beauty was freaked with mystic terror
like little threads of lightning from a passing storm
over the darkening hills as the stars and fireflies came out
and charmed me back into having
the courage to open my eyes again.
Lightning, stars, fireflies, three avatars of insight.
My sex life has strangely paralleled my literary career.
I call myself a heretic. But in fact, I've always been
sacrilegiously sacrificial when it comes to poetry or love.
I let the lamb put the lion on the altar for a change.
It's my oxymoronic approach to God as a woman
in whom all opposites are reconciled in a unitive state
that can be more accurately approximated as not-two, better than one.
And I don't expect everybody to know what that means,
or how much pain there is behind those few moments of bliss
you just seem to blunder into indelibly out of the blue.
Karma, atma, anke, fate, synchronous happenings
in a charged particle field
in a dynamic equilibrium of reversible polarities.
Call it what you like, one brief kiss and you're an addict for life.
The muse comes your way
and you're overtaken by the path you're on,
and you realize, as you stand there gaping,
as a poet in the presence, you've got nothing
of any consequence to say until your mouth learns how to listen
and no one can teach you to do that better than a woman.
So, yes, women for most of the duration and then
the beginning of this long spiritual journey
that starts in the heart with separation from someone.
As if the stars just threw acid in your eyes
and forced you to look at things another way.
And then you understand how even
a wild, single-petalled rose can open the eyes in your blood
and when you cry, it's haemoglobin, not tears
that wash the blindness out of them like an oilslick.
And reversing the spin on the eclipse, you grow to be grateful
to the things you either didn't know how, or were afraid to look at.
Sight is a kind of love, and there's no end of the seeing.
You can walk in darkness like a diamond in a lump of coal
for millions of years and never suspect
you've been shining all along,
you've been decaying into light.
What is the most fervent longing of the trees
if it isn't one day to turn themselves into the light
they keep reaching out to like
Dutch elms with six millions leaves a piece?
To be rooted in the very source of life they aspire to.
That's why so many flowers look uncannily like the stars.
And the Sufis say you take on the characteristics
of anyone you've been around longer than forty days.
And by the time you're as old as I am
you look in the mirror, and you see
the features of the universe that's been living you
for as long as you can remember, moment by moment.
Bless, curse, heal, scry, prophesy, deepen, praise, purge,
improve, reform, redress, delight, teach, or celebrate,
when I can't find any meaning in my insignificance
it's great to think that poetry might do all of these things,
but the more I write, the more I begin
to counter-intuitively suspect poetry's got an agenda of its own
you catch a glimpse of from time to time in the depths
and in the millions of subconscious harmonies
that show up spontaneously on the surface
in the course of your life's work that defy explanation
except as a mode of participatory collaborative creation
where you don't always know who you're working with
or who is working you, as the case may be, so you
often feel like a bit of a fraud to put your name alone
on the fruits your labour, as if a single tree
took a bow for the whole orchard
and the sun and the light, the earth, the rain,
had nothing to do with what lept from your brain
like the myth of the origin of Athena.
And I hope it does some good in the world
like a wheelbarrow you bring to a garden.
I hope I've made a gift of a gift of a gift of a gift
though the way life is that's as hard to determine
as who the real giver is. And as a pragmatic mystic
and practising artist, with my head in the stars
and my feet on the ground, not really any of my business.
And speaking of that, I loathe the way poetry
has been heartshrunk from a noble calling
into a petty business card. And as for those few among many
who still have the courage and the clarity
to risk the revolutionary dangers of their sincerity,
it fills me with savage indignation to see
their imaginations chained like young trees
to a four by four square of permissible earth
surrounded by a lifeless prairie of parking lot asphalt.
That's how scared parking lots are of trees.
But things will change, and change again
because people get sick of the obvious soon enough
and the bling of tinfoil on the midways of life,
and stepping out of the blazing of the circus
into the darkness beyond, look up at the stars
and long as they have done and will always do
to lose themselves in the mystery
that's shining all around them as if
the light were emanating from the inside of the lanterns
they hold up like their hearts to the darkness.
And believe me, as much as I love astronomy
and the shape of a telescope has almost
as much sex appeal to me as the genius of a woman's body
it was poetry that taught me how much further
one of these little lanterns can see into the mystery
than the most gargantuan spaced out observatories can.
The seeking is always more beguiling than the finding,
depending, of course, on what you're looking for.
And losing yourself in something that absorbs you wholly
is still the quickest way to dust off the staleness of life
and polish the mirror to brighten the stars in your eyes.
Or if you're having one of those demonically possessed days
when it seems you keep knocking on the front doors
of the hives of killers bees that keep swarming you
with the ferocity of mass mundanities, hoping one of them
might turn out to be a pinata full of treats
at a Mexican birthday party, if you persist in risking enough.
Poetry, if you give it more than you even thought you had to give,
will give you in return, when you need them the most
the arms to take up against a sea of troubled dubieties,
and sitting down at your desk, out of breath from running,
empower you to give every bee and demon back its stinger
by giving each a name, and writing them to death
like a constellation of black dwarfs, as I have here
just to irradiate the air again with northern auroras
of solar flares lifting the veils to reveal
the intense clarity in the eyes of the mystery
that all things are as they are,
because just like atoms and quasars
when all is said and done
everything comes down to metaphors.
And the esoteric teachings of inspired shape-shifters,
whispering cosmically in the dark to themselves
the secret spells of black matter that landscape the light
with imagination, insight, and intuition
and without nudging a single atom
with the slightest notion of thought
bring whole new worlds to fruition
with every wavelength of the mystery
that abides within like compassion
shy in the shadows of love, waiting
for love to open the door from the inside
and see what it's done to the place
in the absence of the stranger
standing on his own threshold in the doorway
of the homelessness that throws its arms about him
like space, time, light, love, light and life
and welcomes him back like the return journey
of the way he left in the first place.
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