Patrick White

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

Like A Star When You Write - Poem by Patrick White

Like a star when you write, you never
really know what happens to the light,
how it gets bent by somebody else’s
gravitational eye, or if, somewhere
on a nearby planet flowers open like loveletters
from an anonymous admirer. Maybe
there’s a mother in the summer of life
teaching her daughter to make a wish upon you
and keep it like a secret to herself, or

fireflies in a valley after a thunderstorm
aspiring to the heights you shine down from,
knowing there’s no up or down in the space
you emanate out of in all directions at once
like arrows on the circular Sufi bow of light
that embraced Muhammad in the cave of Hira
when he was told by Allah to recite
and he didn’t know how. Sometimes
there’s a nightbird caught in your throat
like a canary in a mine and the gold
just comes pouring out like honey from a hive.

Like the dawn no one ever knows until they open
the aviary of their mouth whether they’re releasing
doves or crows, great blue herons, or wrens, or a comet
streaking across the sky like a shrieking phoenix,
whether you’re attending a seance of dead friends
or an exorcism of yourself. Poetry isn’t
morality, politics, prayer, social altruism,
a raffle ticket in the genius lottery run
by corruptions of the original text, therapy,
the cure for a broken heart, or the meaning
of life. Not a curse, or a blessing you’d wish
upon your children. Not a mirror for magistrates
or shapeshifters, nor yet a reflection of nature
in the bloodless abstraction of a blank stare
trying to fix things in place like a thumb tack
on a starmap of seastars guiding the drowned
to ground like an island universe they can be
washed up on by an ocean that doesn’t hold a grudge.

You get the point? Poetry’s more of a wavelength
than a god-particle, a dangerous river, not
a highway that’s had the hazards conditioned
out of it by the well-meaning who deplore
the road kill all along it like the collateral damage
of a will intent on making things better and better
by ignoring the extreme chaos of their refinements,
handing out parachutes to eagles and crosswalks
to frogs and turtles. Hymns to the dragonflies
who died in the balleen grills and bumpers of cars
the sparrows will pick clean in shopping mall parking lots.

If you’re a poet, when you write, you’re always
whistling in the dark to a star in the corner
of your eye that’s been following you for miles
down a long dirt road that ascends to the moment
like a hill you can walk right off into the nightsky
ahead of you like a moonrise confiding in its own shadows.

And don’t get fooled into thinking
you’re the undertaker of a dying art
embalming your vital organs in Canopic jars
like alabaster wombs doomed to go
gummy and post mature in the dark
without ever breaking like water into
an afterlife of literary immortality
that can’t breathe on its own without
artificial life support, here, or at
the stargates of Orion, you may be
read forever but you only get to sing it once
acapella and that on the fly, like a grave robber
or a thief of fire that’s burning with life
to put the dead to better use than just
leaving them where they lie in their toyboxes.

Embalmed in the mummy cloth of the dying fall
of your dactylics, what could you be but the echo
of an afterlife that’s always a step or two behind you
like the shadow of a star that can’t catch up to itself?

Your poems will die right along with you
if you insist upon it, like slender cup-bearers
who used to serve you wine like willow-trees
down by the river when everything poured
out of itself like stars and fireflies from your long hair
and Ophelias of waterflowers tried so hard
to please you well. They’ll drink the poison
and lie down at your feet without dreaming
anything anymore. In the dark. In the silence.
In the stillness of all those lifeless images
that keep their secrets to themselves because
you stopped the waterclock on an empty bucket
as if you knew what hour it was on the nightwatch
and you struck the bell like the skull of time
that prophesied soon you would have been fulfilled
like a new moon if you’d only opened your eyes
a crack in the dark, left the door ajar, come
with a crowbar to let the light in and out like a pulsar.

Wasn’t it Keats who said that of all God’s creatures
a poet is the one with no identity so as to know
the whole of existence as intimately as
that little white square of emptiness centred in the heart
with no one standing there that wasn’t
a stranger from the start? Little wonder then,
nothing but the forged passports of our poems for papers
to show the border guards in the doorway
of our homecomings that we’re who we say we are,
we clamour to be recognized like the names
of flowers and stars, metaphors with inky fingerprints,
the labyrinthine shadows of ghosts that have been here before us.

Fame’s a trap. More poets have been killed
by the adoration of a pitcher plant than by
the neglect of waterlilies in a festering swamp.
Poets can bloom like wild orchids
in the shadows of outhouses, or crack concrete
like the jackhammers of the dandelions
you can read in between the lines of the sidewalks.

There are lyrical mystics weaving bamboo pots
and sandles in the back alleys of black markets
from the ganas of Calcutta, the ghazals
of the Ruknabad, the haiku of Tokugawa Japan,
the sagas of Iceland, to the approximate sonnets
of Denver, Colorado, on out to the blue
picture-music of the Pleiades backcombing their hair
into nebular rhapsodies of inspired hydrogen.

What’s a good review compared to the depth
of the silence that follows the song of the nightbird
even the hills are moved to echo among themselves
like a voice they overheard with a longing like their own
to dignify what’s most unanswerable about life
by dancing with desire to the music of their own solitude?

Arpeggios of rain on the petals of the unseen flower
playing variations of thorns and vines like Scarlatti
alone at the harpsichord for an hour out of mind
as if someone had left the gate to the culture garden open
and the music had spread on its own like the rootfires
of purple loosestrife and wild columbine.

If I write about you while I’m alive
will you write about me after I’m dead
as if one gravestone a lifetime weren’t enough,
and every autopsy open-endedly ambiguous
in the teaching hospitals of the literati
hovering over the persona of your cadaver
naked in the surgical theatres of their dress rehearsals
flower-arranging their scalpels like bleeding hearts
in an abattoir of featherless roses turning
cyanotically blue from a lack of oxygen at those heights?

Better to befriend a dog, than literary immortality, if you want
your corpse dug up to the quality of the starmud
you’re interred in like tar sands on their way
to a refinery to be dumped like petrocoke and soot
on someone else’s funereal dreams of a best-selling book.

Better to chip all the cartouches of your regal name
like the scars of old wounds off the pillars you
rededicated to the one sun god you were the embodiment of
and wander off like an apostate poet
who preferred the desert to the promised land
because none of the stars out there were
ever compelled to wear yellow armbands
and nobody counted the plinths on an abacus of shining
because there were more needles than there were
haystacks to hide them in an infinite number of directions.

Back to eyebeams. You create the star you see,
the star you want to be, out of your own light.
The way you shine upon things is what
gets reflected back to you like a karmic message
in glass bottle bobbing along your mindstream
like the prophetic skulls of previous dismemberments
to please wake yourself up from the dream you’re having
of yourself like the thematically connected scheme
of a waterclock of purple passages on your way
to turn the water into wine at a wedding of flesh and spirit.

Sooner or later everybody gets married to the world,
and you can’t nullify that anymore than you can
seek a divorce from yourself as if you wrote nothing
but decree absolutes published in a book of bans.

You can’t unshadow the world as if you were
taking a saddle off a winged horse that had had enough
of the bit and the spurs and the burrs under the saddle
and threw you off for not knowing how to ride
your inspiration bareback. Just say to yourself
if you’re brave enough to take your own advice,
o well, there’s more poetry in walking to the stars
than there is in hitch-hiking, and give the matter a rest.

Just sing to yourself in the enormity of your solitude
and listen to the rumours of silence in the dark
that answer you in a million voices like the moon
on the undulant eyelids of a lake in deep rem sleep,
yes, we’re here, too, with you in this abyss
overhearing ourselves like hidden secrets in the bushes
gesturally expressing a wish to be known
not so much for what we say or the way we say it
for our eyes only, but as a kind of sign language,
a universal dream grammar among night birds
conversing alone with the Alone, from one conversation
to the next, without taking each other out of context
like the sacred syllables of the waterbirds disappearing
like words of farewell on the wind as we take
our leave of each other at the silver-tongued forks in our wake.


Comments about Like A Star When You Write by Patrick White

  • (7/8/2013 12:53:00 AM)


    Absolutely wonderful! But I've come to expect that now. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, July 4, 2013

Poem Edited: Tuesday, July 23, 2013


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