I'Ve Grown Old Remembering You When You Were Young - Poem by Patrick White
I've grown old remembering you when you were young.
How much wiser we were then though we didn't know it
than I am now, or you would have been, had you lived.
Ignorant of the outcome of desire, sometimes it's better
to drown, than learn to keep your head above water, or swim.
I made a liferaft of my bones to get to the other side
of my heart. Like the moon, one half bright, the other, dark.
I've knocked on so many doors the past left ajar,
but for a long time you never answered.
Looked into so many eyes so far from home,
hoping to catch a glimpse of your shadow
moving past the window like a waterbird backlit by the moon,
and though some of them had your mouth, some, your hair,
some your earlobes hung with silver chandeliers of rain
falling from your wings like a broken rosary of waterdroplets,
none of them had your soul, none were as lost
and inimitable as you unanswerably were.
Street rose, how is it my tears are still pierced by your thorns
after all these years? Out of the midnight blue,
without warning, idling among the river reeds,
or rooted in the wavelengths of the mindstream, some star
spears me through the heart like a fish on the barb of the moon
and I have to sit down among the rocks at the water's edge
with a vision of beauty and love and the passage of time
too unbearably immense for flesh and blood to carry
like so many other empty buckets and sad bells back
from the abandoned wishing wells where the ghosts gather
to recall what it was like to want something once.
Long for someone so badly you would gladly
have endured a thousand spiritual deaths and metaphoric rebirths
as I have done, for one life of being wounded and healed,
exalted and terrified by the mystery of what or who
you truly loved like the eclipse of a moonrise in your blood
more indelibly than death itself appears in the black mirror
when you look deeply into it like a starmap of music
as your last futile hope of bringing someone back
and your eyes freeze like star sapphires deep underground
with what they see like fireflies and lightning in the sockets
of prophetic skulls whose eyes are the jewels of the dead.
Perpetual muse, you, unnamed, who distinguish my words still
with the intimacy of your absence, daughter of the abyss
I was left with when you lost your nerve and collapsed
like a suspension bridge over the moonlit thread
of your spine below when the safety web broke like the illusion
of a dreamcatcher, like the beads of the constellation
the sun belonged to when we first encountered each other
like alien planets driven out like black sheep of the solar system
and looked back at its dwindling light from a long way off
and knew of a certainty, you were, as was I,
alone in this remote space with each other,
estranged companions for life. Was it not so,
and has it not always been in its own unique way as it is now?
Between your silence and my voice have we not evolved
a dream grammar by which the living can speak to the dead?
Do I not hear you in the broken-hearted train whistle
mourning into the distance with no help for its sorrow
and in the long mantra of the wind in the aspens
and the gaping mouths of the waterlilies awed
by the symmetrical similarity of their astonished silence
to that of the stars looking ahead in wonder
at what they've been flowering into for lightyears.
Long after your ashes were scattered with beautiful sentiments
mingled like rose water in every one's tears
to bless the flightpath of a fire bird's return to the elements
from a precipitous cliff out over the sea at night
as if we weren't saying farewell to a woman who had lived
like one of us, but were attending the sky burial of a comet
who had made a Tunguskan impact on everyone she encountered,
was it not me, when all the other listeners
thought they'd heard the whole of the message you had to say
and left you alone in the dark in an empty hall
that first perplexing night of being dead among the stars,
who went on listening to your omens as if there
could never be an end of the flames and feathers of meaning
that unfolded in the wake of your passage across
the desolate seas and annulled atmospheres of my lunar heart?
What pain, what joy, grief, loss, enlightenment,
life in death and death in life have I not endured,
what loneliness not embraced as if it were
more deeply exiled from everything it had ever known
than I was when I blew out the last candle of votive fire
like a broken dragon missing one its own in its reclusive solitude?
Even the ashen sages weep like urns of wisdom
for the extinction of the light that taught them
to see in the dark with a compassionate heart
that insight walks the same path delusion does
and attachment, too, is another paling of moonlight
on an open gate that all humans must pass through
to pay homage to the fountains and watersheds
love brings to flower in their gardens and cemeteries alike.
Many times I've sensed your tenderness in the sensitivities
of the carillons of wild columbine that rang
discretely in the silence like rain chimes in the spring
and I came to understand it was you, whenever
I wandered along the river like a troubled sleepwalker
through the mystic cults of the woods at night
into a clearing like the third eye of the torrent
that roared all around me like a wounded black hole,
it was you in the sanctuary of your concealment who revealed
that thoughts and emotions like the unsanctified oceans
of tormented stars I wanted to drown in, weren't
static states of mind where space turns brittle
as the looking glass you get locked into,
but dynamic events of the heart that shatter
our crystal skulls into unknown configurations of light
rising like new constellations out of the regenerative chaos
that watered the old gardens of our starmaps
with the splinters of broken chandeliers that cut our eyes
like tears in an early spring thaw. It was you
as surely as it was the clear light of the void within me
who whispered to me that night I was on the verge
of liberating the past from the future of a bad precedent
that we don't live separately from the dead,
that each of us is the embodiment of the longing
of unnumbered myriads who released their hopes
and dreams and prayers like smoke and birds
and cedar boughs of incense on the wind
knowing they probably wouldn't be there
to hear the answer if one ever did come back again.
Where else but now is the future made manifest
by the summons of the past in a voice
we recognize as everyone's including yours and mine?
Just as I see your eyes in this insight like the occult bliss
of the dawn at midnight writing immanental love lyrics
in the journals of nocturnal wildflowers confiding in the moon.
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