Nameless Tonight, Not Me, Immensities - Poem by Patrick White
Nameless tonight, not me, immensities
beyond my reach. The windows
thawing in the heat. Blue moon
above a junkyard of farm machinery.
The pioneers' bones have been exhumed
from the land they settled. Empty
the graves of those who slept in these hills,
lunar lichens plastered like playbills
over the closing night of their names.
Echoes we all disappear into like waterbirds
soon enough, skipping out over the lake
like gravestones in the hands of those
who effaced us from our own history.
I can't place myself anywhere,
alive or dead, no homestead of my own,
where I can watch the raspberry bushes
flourish year after year and listen to the rain
drumming the tin toolshed roof into a trance.
I'm unselfishly disciplined when it comes
to rendering the unsayable communicable
through events of form that shape-shift
to the counter-intuitive logic of metaphor
that transcends physics in post cosmological realms,
but that doesn't mean I've got the will of a socket wrench
to go on tightening loose bolts the rest of my life.
Rocking fields they won't let me die in.
I like knowing the pioneers used wildflowers
for soap, Bouncing Bet, Pride of London,
Lady at the Gate, and if I were ever
to survive a nuclear war, I'd put this knowledge
to good use like a lantern in a housewell
to keep the hand pump from freezing,
potato peels in the fire to desiccate the creosote.
I'd eat staghorn sumac and briney frogs for breakfast.
My mind would be an assortment
of different size nails and screws
I've saved for years to meet any occasion
I might have to keep things together anti-dramatically.
In the meantime I explore these old farms
the way a raccoon exploits an abandoned barn,
listening for the torrential wavelengths of snakes
fleeing the rain to hunt mice in the dishevelled bales
of sour hay way past dreaming of mangers.
After the original occupants die
and the last born son has left the farm for good,
we're all strangers in a used solitude.
The indignant silence makes everyone a trespasser.
Names on gravestones. Names carved in barn beams.
A scripture of old curtains hanging from the windows
like the priestcraft of spiders that haven't been disturbed in years.
Prewar magazines espousing the miracles of magnetism
in relieving the agonies of rheumatism
and hairline fractures of cracked vertebrae
that took the load upon themselves out of pride
one too many times without thinking
of their own cornerstones and rotting floor sills.
A roof collapsing. A door on one hinge like a drunk
trying to hold on to something upright and final.
Schools and churches, pews, desks, and woodsheds,
everything as functional as the hives and houseflies
that cluster in the walls like those born to follow
the tried and trued, straight and narrow road
through the winding woods reweaving it
like a loose thread that unravelled the labyrinth
of the spiritual lost and found that dug up their bones
for hygienic reasons that had nothing to do
with how deep they were buried in the land
before their corpses were washed away from the soil
that clung to them like faithful hunting dogs
that slept on their graves for weeks after they died,
not knowing, how the city would come to them,
even in their homegrown deaths, like roadkill and erosion.
I've seen crucified barn boards warped by the sun and rain,
pull their old fashioned square-headed nails out
with their own teeth like dogs extracting porcupine quills
from the voodoo dolls they've made of themselves
like a self-fulfilling hex of hunting magic gone wrong.
And I admire all that the way I admire the palatial virtues
of the strong who live like glacial hills among
the heaped tels of Sisyphean rocks beside
the valleys they dug for themselves and their children
expiring in moats of scarlet fever, to lie down in
like time capsules without a table of contents
that could have anticipated that all they laboured for
would cast them away like strawdogs after a moribund ritual
that would not let them rest their heads on the rock of the world
and dream they were returning to the wild
like their gardens that have gone on blooming without them.
Salt of the earth with bedrock hearts, I come
like the deus ex machina, as you would have seen me
in terms you could have understood, late in the day
like a ghost to a morality play on tour in the country,
looking for a clearing among the trees to view the stars
long after the applause has died away. And the longer
I stand here surveying six thousand photogenic stars
burning without fire permits in the summer dark,
mourning your exorcism, the more I feel crowded
by your absence as if the Summer Triangle
were missing an eagle and the Seven Sisters
in the orchards of the Pleiades, carried away by the wind,
like Sabine maidens, had pruned the horns of Taurus
by deboning the land of the humans
they've torn out of it like the stumps of the locust trees
that used to sing here at night, bright with blossoming stars
and the occasional night bird like me
on its way to somewhere else,
and in the morning, was backed-up
by the ecstatic choirs of the born again honey-bees.
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