Patrick White

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

How Many Ways Can You Die In A Day? - Poem by Patrick White

How many ways can you die in a day?
How many ways do you want to?
As if things had been settled once and for all.
No one to say farewell to anymore.
Grey, this anonymous day that does not
serve me well, though you can never tell.
Sometimes the worst is for the best. Fat chance.

No more excuses. No more alibis. No more
reasons for why dying seems so much
more sincere than living this waterclock
of a life constantly shooting white water rapids
without an oar or a raft when everything's on the line.
More a drainage ditch than a device for telling the time.
Too late. Too late. Too late. No flowers in the fields.
No stars in the sky as a sign of things to come.

I look around. Circumspectly numb. Is this
wisdom, or just the calm before the storm?
All the snowmen are gone. Am I the last dolmen?
Tired the rocks. Of never having anything to build on.
Weary the air. Of this labyrinth of ins and outs.
And sad, sad, sad, this sea of oblivious awareness,
almost sweet, that accepts us as a matter of course.
The pursuit of an earthly excellence, even achieved,
isn't much of a success in the world's eyes.
You can hope, though I've come to understand
that hope like despair is often more of a curse
than a blessing. Like those little blue clearings
in a grey sky that somehow seem to make things worse.

Me? I turn to something like this poem
when I'm alone in the abyss in the absence
of any other way to exist except as a gesture
of absurdity, and maybe with no suggestion
of changing anything, an existential protest
against circumstances that progressively don't resist
but insist nevertheless on a form of repressive tolerance.
On the principle that if I know the name
of my enemy, when my enemy is merciless,
a word, a single name, an atom, a photon of insight
is enough to empower me to transcend it.

But even that's growing a little thin these days.
No insulation on the heart of the dragon.
No up or down to it anymore, just one long flat line
like a horizon with no rolling hills
bluing in the distance cyanotically like frost bite.
Stern the windows like moral lessons left unlearned,
grimed by the weather and the world. Real estate offices
decked out in flags as if they were the last
true nations on earth. Can't even bury your dead
by the side of the stream where they caught minnows
in the early spring run-off every year as an excuse
to get outside, without somebody holding their hand out
pleonaxically for more and more and more.
I want to slam the coffin lid on their fingers
and make them gnaw on a crystal skull immune
to maggots. Let the maggots go hungry for awhile
and shrivel up and die like emaciated commas.

Further out at sea, ineluctably, the flood pours over me
caught up in the undertow of the providential tides
I took at the full but are now sweeping me away
like a mirage in a desert, salvage under the flying carpet
of this derelict shore. I'm somnambulistically
piloting myself through the reefs of a waking coma
and it's better the less I feel what's happening to me
than it is that I do. Soma sema. The body a tomb.

What could Orpheus bruised like deadly nightshade
by the glare of the unnuanced day, in for the night,
with less than he left with, possibly hope to attain,
his eyes adjusting to the darkness within, his voice
to the dread silence that wears it like a death mask,
but the right to exhume his own remains in a land
of dark jewels like the tears of the dead, without
looking back at where he'd displaced his own
prophetic head like a skull in the firepit of a moonrise?

Ably said. If the cold doesn't go through your bones once,
how can there be apricot blossoms in the spring?
But what happens if the ice age keeps repeating?
Do these latter day dire wolves gather waiting
for the vintage blood, that tastes of fear and panic,
for a baby mammoth to thaw its way out
of a glacial crevasse that's breaking water like a mother
that gave it the best she had without meaning to?

All these post-mature, amniotic fluids are turning to glue.
The waterclocks are slowing down. The lockmasters
have swallowed the skeleton keys of our ups and downs
like anchors in drydock. The hull of my moonboat
is being refitted with coral on the bottom, and sharks
in the nightshift cafeteria are playing ping pong
with my rudder and a fishing net in a valley of shadows
between the sundial and the sun, not one burning bridge
between here and forever, to stand on and watch
the river run between one extreme and the other
like a balanced approach to life that took the initiative
into its own hands like the ghost feeling of an amputee.
Orpheus remembered by dismembering his poetry.

What would the white-robed priests say about
exstasis then, if he ate of the little tree, the fly agaric,
amanita muscaria, ephedra, rust on the wheat, the apple,
haoma, or any one of a number herbal options,
and became as one of the gods of vulture capitalism
circling the sky burials of neolithic Turkey
where the victim is always a poor substitute
for the sacrificer? A scapegoat fattened on food stamps.
Or the ambrosia of macaroni and cheese.
O Great Artificer, explain that to me. How it
comes about that it isn't the meat, the ram, the lamb
that reaches your nostrils, but the piety of the event?
Do we die and go to a foodbank for the poor
as unwanted at the end as we were at the beginning,
scraps off the altars of other people's religions?
Do our bodies rise up to heaven like incense to you?

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Poem Edited: Friday, December 7, 2012

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