Patrick White

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

I Can Feel The Skin Peeling Off Me Like Old Paint - Poem by Patrick White

I can feel the skin peeling off me like old paint
around this windowframe I’ve pictured myself
standing in for the last two years like an astronomer
at the shallow end of a lens, or a water snake
shedding another ghost of what’s it’s grown out of
and leaves like a windsock to any passing breeze
that thinks it’s got the moves or the requisite serpent fire
to fit it. For me it was always a nightsky too tight.

A cellophane straitjacket, larva in a chrysalis
who thought the wingspan of dragonflies to come
were like man, the measure of all things. I’ve
been trying to step out of myself like a star-nosed mole
at the end of a black hole that’s turned the feathers of the crow
back to white like the fountainhead of a whole new universe
moving on like a waterclock from the empty bucket wish
of this one on its deathbed spiralling down like a kamikaze dove
that had been shot down in the flames of a spiritual fire
that burned like a dragon on the pyre of its own ashes.

I went looking for the holy grail, even it be
I had to drink the waters of life from my own prophetic skull,
or my eyes ran down my cheeks in sacred tears
of the most indescribable bliss of being lost
without hope of rescue on the vast nightsea of my awareness.

There was no beginning or end of things, nothing
as far as the eye could see, not an archipelago
of spiral galaxies washed up on a deserted beach
like a nautical starmap of sea stars that strayed
too far off the path like a Milky Way of fireflies
who are wise enough to know you have to keep
jumping orbitals like tree rings all the time if you
want to release the photons of spring, and, and, and
like the co-ordinate conjunctions of the rain
dropping from the eaves, I ended up here on the nightwatch
bailing the sea out my lifeboat with an urn
as full and round as the skull of the supermoon
reflected in the eyes of all these unread windowpanes.

Here’s as good as anywhere yesterday lingers
and tomorrow takes its time like an old growth forest.
I don’t drink, so I never have to pass the time
feeling hollow and empty as a gas can looking for a refill
to get back on a road that ran out on you
like a wife and kids that have had enough
of living in a ditch for the sake of love delayed.
In my work, I seek a greater intimacy with words
than merely inking my fingerprints
like labyrinthine firepits in the snow for the record.
I want people to listen to the roar of the oceans
in the rosey seashells of their own inner ears
when the wind is tinting the silver, Russian olives
like the patina of an alloy of copper and moonlight
as if the most expansive visions of life hid
in the mystic details of how to paint the picture-music
implicit in all this like shapeshifters bingeing on the light.

I’ve deepened my understanding over the lightyears
until I’ve lost sight of what I’m doing or why,
and it may be arrogance to pursue this kind
of earthly excellence long after you’re counter-intuitively sure
your eyes have returned to the sea like two waterbirds
evaporating into the aerial blue of the distance
like hidden muses in this dream of life
that cries out in its sleep as if it were drowning
like a lighthouse off the coasts of its own poetic consciousness.

Happy with the divinity of the image we were
born into or not, false idols of creator-gods and goddesses
shaping the starmud of their universe on the wheel
of life and death, and after it’s been fired
in a kiln of stars, and it’s been cooled like the clay
of the flesh in the tears that temper our passions,
return it to the source like a sword drawn from stone,
shrugging the world off our shoulders along the roadside back,
as we mutter some reflexive mantra under our breath
about how, at the least, we tried and tried and tried
as if that were some kind of sign that things were good enough.

Taking big steps for humankind on the moon
or getting up on your own two feet for the very first time
like a bipedal unicycle with a gyroscopic sense of balance
in a gravity free atmosphere has always been as much
the aspiration of the wrong stuff that weighs you down
as much as the right that ballasts your buoyancy
or a god-particle that tweaks your mass by passing
right through you like the contrail of a hadron collider
annihilating the positive spin of the English
you put on the cue ball to take a long shot
at sinking the solid in the sidepockets of the real.

You can think about it all you want, but thinking
is just the life of a flute wondering where the music
comes from that passes through it like a breath of light
appearing like the Pleiades on a windowpane late at night.
Thought falls like the shadows of things in print
across our paths from one margin to the next
like silver-tongued ploughshares yoked to the necks
of two white oxen gouging boustrophedons
like labyrinthine crop circles into the innocence
of our starmud. But where’s the seed, where
are the magic beans, where are the weeds
and the wildflowers the stars envy for their beauty?

Art is deaf, dumb, mute and blind as a starmap of Braille
in the eyes of those who’ve conditioned their eyes
to perpetually looking for the grails of their skulls
that are as lost as they are in the world as if
to find something they were happy with
put a stop to their minds and filled their mouths with silence.

Out of the dark, a vague prompting in the nebular heart
and things start shining of their own accord,
when the solid and the real merge like diamonds
in the waters of life translucent as the music
of bird-bone flutes that have gone on playing like dawn
in the graves of Archaic Indians lying by the Strait of Belle Isle.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Poem Edited: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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