My Heart Almost Dead - Poem by Patrick White
My heart almost dead, a mansion of ashes and ghosts,
a museum of ancient eclipses and supernovas,
the bones of old lovers hanging like wind chimes
in a shadowless forest of charred trees
waiting for mystical rain when the wind wakes up
and spreads its rumour of regeneration.
Love before and love after; even when they hear the music
no one dances. There are no colours in their eyes,
fixed as fired glass, and their tears fall
like lethal riddles on the nervous breakdown of the sphinx.
And it's all so sad and okay they're gone
or were never here, or stayed awhile
and passed on like a pilgrim in a dream
to a distant shrine where they could play the goddess.
Who isn't the god of their own hovel
sweeping dead stars from the sills of their lies like winter flies?
Somewhere deep in space without and within
the light is two guitars at right angles
trying to play with one hand in harmony. And that's okay, too,
but I'm bored with reading these well-thumbed books of pain
in isolated lighthouses mourning like widows in the rain.
There's nothing much in the salvage of phantom ships
that makes me want to run down to the shore anymore
and look for survivors. Why shine or warn
when everyone runs aground on the rocks like abandoned arks?
There are dead elephants among the starfish in the tides,
tigers of salt lifeless in the brine, drunk prophets
giving their flesh to the crabs and grazing fish
like wafers of communion served by lifeless dolls,
whole worlds in embryo, dead treble-clefs
and riderless sea-horses. Why turn your heart into a church
for a congregation of coroners; why turn the wine
into embalming fluid and call it holy blood
and pretend it's salvation
when the bell is already wounded
by a kiss of black lightning
that wanted to cut the judas-goat down from its rope?
The jackals of prayer are out hunting the motherless lamb
with the golden fleece; every leaf hears the scream
and shudders into a sanctuary of hidden roots, safe for the night;
every eye signs the averted glimpse
of sudden blood on the moon
and denies its own work three times at the crowing of the cock
like the founding quicksand of a compromised religion.
Let's finally agree that love is dead, a dead bird
washed ashore, its neck broken against the window of the sky,
the dead song in the harp of your hand. You're hip and cool
in the chemical bowers of your emptiness; why
suborn the only witness for the defense
and accuse yourself of jury-tampering
on a constantly remanded day of judgment
when the heart that wrote the law is also the pen that broke it?
Good-bye, little seed, good-bye; the wind is dying
that wanted you to root by the river in endless summer;
a riot of tender stars and lavish wildflowers
too free and full of life along the flowing of the mindstream
for any rational assassin with scissors and a vase.
No one sees the light within the light, the breath within the breath,
or knows who inked the stars like tattoos on the skin-bags of their hearts
the ignorant mistake for dice.
Maybe we could make a raft of all these scattered moonbones
and sail across a dead sea to an undetected paradise
waiting for us to find it like a flower
pressed between the heavy pages of these infinite horizons;
or maybe we could clear a space beneath our eyelids
and renovate the thirteenth misbegotten house of the zodiac
into a life-boat for two and sail off the edge of this flat world
into an ocean of light with eyes like green, green islands.
But who wants to be a castaway
in paradise, alone, an agony of innocence longing for Eve
to step out naked from the mirrorless wardrobes of the trees
where she's been trying herself on like a spree of flesh?
Even the tramp and the baglady
begging in the alleys and backdoors of Eden
know more about creation than all these unborn angels
panicking into the webs of the landlord spiders
that slum the haloes of the streetlamps
into a fury of mesmerized food.
Even the ghost of the dream that breathed itself out like a crib-death
alone in the nightward of a silent orphanage
is the envy of the nations of the heart
that stand abandoned on the illusory shores of the sea of being
and long for passage through the dangerous doorways of themselves
into the freedom of the fool's wilderness on the other side.
If even Buddha and the devil had to pawn their holiness to get across,
leaving everything behind,
what a feeble price is asked of us
cringing in these vagrant shadows under a private bridge.
But what's the good of following these symbols to the water's edge
like sacred footprints if you won't joyfully plunge in?
O you who look among the pages of all these sages and books
for somewhere to send your love-letters to
like a fixed address for life; do you want
to know the meaning, the secret of it all, the key to your release
from all the straitjackets and hasty refugee camps
you've established at your guarded border-crossings within
demanding phoney passports from the clouds and the wind
to end your own homeless wandering?
Do you want to wear a real face over that mask
that fear carved on both sides like a one-way mirror
to interrogate yourself into exhaustion for an unknown sin?
When love lights the dark house like a lamp within;
in a word that's never known birth or perishing,
feeling it softly like the folding of wings
or the breath of a butterfly on the white rose of your skin,
put an end to the long glacial ages of yourself, thaw the grim fictions
and like a stream that whispers in its running, joy
its only teacher, one word along its length:
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