Patrick White

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

Not Even The Light - Poem by Patrick White

Not even the light of the stars
shining like the keys to the ancient love-letters
bound among the secret jewels
of the queen of heaven
penetrates me as deeply as you do.

The planet wheels into the night
bearing its burden of humans
murdering each other
to enforce one state of ignorance
upon another
as the rabid bees
strafe the demented flowers
on the far side of the world
for enriching their radioactive pollen,
convinced in their madness
more honey than blood will flow from the wound.

I walk by myself
along the brittle banks of a frozen stream
among the detonations of the cattails
waiting like Napoleonic cannoneers
to stoke the charge of the next volley.

The snow in the sunset
is stained a spectral apricot
that disappears like breath on a cold window
and the sky is vast with my insignificance.
Two or three decades of life left,
if I'm lucky,
and though I have tried to use my time
to leave a gift for someone I will never meet,
long ago I realized
there is no way of assessing
what they will find
after the coffin closes like an eyelid
on this long, dark, radiant brevity
that once shone like the moon
in the ores of my blood.

Like the wandering of this rivulet
my heart has always been
a pilgrim without a shrine
and the direction of prayer has encompassed all
like a man getting up off his knees
and walking through an open door
to drink from the cup of his lover
in the shadows of the autumn willow
that sways like kite-tails
from the flights of fire
she ignites among the stars
that gather in the dark like strangers
before their own ghosts.

What the wind
has torn away from me like apple-bloom,
like poems, like smoke and leaf, like skies,
like tears and blood and faith
it has replaced
with these deeper revelations of you
that hang like a windfall of scarlet bells
from the branch of a dead tree in winter.

The wine of your life and light
has matured in the ferocious crucibles of the sun
and you have been poured out
like the passion of a sword
to cleave the stone of my heart
with these truant rivers of wounded silver
that flow through me like blood.

A young breeze
tries to hone the edge of its blade
on the rising moon
as a black ribbon of water
runs like a snake of oil
between the enclosing jaws
and cataracts of ice,
tiny wavelets scaling its skin
scintillant with the small commotions of stars overhead.
The bush wolves
have been nosing for muskrat
and you can almost taste the steam
rising from hot meat on the air.

I squeak like a pulley through the virgin snow,
following the banks of my own meandering,
owing nothing of myself to anyone,
wholly my own solitude,
as I pass through the gates
of the enclosing darkness
trying to enter the abyss and the mystery
of what I have lived so precariously
over the last sixty-three years,
what it means, if anything,
to be a human among these paper birches
on an island in the stream,
looking up at the intimate unattainability
of the stars,
knowing you are growing old,
that death is more populous with friends
than life, that love
has sloughed you so many times
like a viper's skin,
like the phases of the moon,
like a shrine of smoke and ashes,
that the phoenix hesitates
to robe itself in the full glory
of its former plumes of fire.

My mother will die soon.
I must say it,
voice it in my blood
to be able to bear it
and my children are clouds in the world
that no longer look for their reflections
in the eyes of the lake they arose from
as if they were merely breathed out.

And how in any god's name
can a man define the absence
he has grown to be,
except he standardize his own spinal cord
as the only measure of loss
he has to go by?
And even after
all the millennia of my walking,
standing up,
I'm still only six feet closer to the stars
though my mind can embody all of space
in a solitary thought.

And the deep, inner silence
in the empty throne-room of my heart
where even the most profound events of my life
are seen to be ultimately no more
than the antics of a jester
playing with shadows,
turns out after all to be
just another mode of weeping.

It takes a lifetime
for a dropp of water
to gather the courage to fall
from the tip of a blade of stargrass,
and the tongue has tears
the eyes know nothing of.
I admire the cool crimson
on the brushes of the ground willow
as they try to catch my likeness
on the ice-primed canvas of the snow,
but suggest
to portray me as I lived
they need to be loaded with blood not paint.

Like the moon
I have worn the same blossom
as a face
for years now
and I still don't know the fruit
that ripens beneath it;
whether my life has sweetened
in orchards of light,
or black dwarf of the forbidden apple
on a dead tree,
I taste like a full eclipse.

And what could it change even if I did know?
When the diaspora of my starseed
breaks bread
at a harvest of thorns;
who is the host
and who is the guest
and who asks for a menu?

And no matter how far from home
the journey takes him,
whether down a dead-end alley
or further than the stars
was there ever a man
who didn't walk to his own funeral
like a bell
looking for any beginning
that might not be lost in the end?
Or does the snake
that takes its tail in its mouth
as a gesture of eternity
eventually end up swallowing
its own head
like this stream before me
making its way to the sea?

I stepped across a star sill
through a vertical door into life
and in the leaving of it
I shall knock from the inside
on a door that's horizontal
to continue my descent toward earth
down a ladder of thresholds;
and what began so earnestly
among family and friends and lovers
will be concluded by a stranger
who will wear my name like a gravestone.

But here among the tangle
of these fallen trees, their roots
fleshed out
and washed like a corpse
by the water and the snow,
Venus peers through the fingers
of the branches above
where two crows have paired
like quotation marks
around the hearsay of the night
though I am left speechless
by the random beauty of the scene,
as if my voice had been released like a bird
into its own most intimate, inward vision
and that vision were everywhere you like the sky
it disappears into like I do
everytime my heart is opened
like one of the lockets of time
and I stare into your eyes
and the universe stares back
as you breathe out the night with all of its stars
and then I breathe you in
just as a golden feather of the moon
lands without a ripple
or unravelling wake
on the mirror of these lonely, black waters
I have followed deep into the darkness
like the urgent secret of my own lifestream,
and I know it's you. I know it's you.


Comments about Not Even The Light by Patrick White

  • (5/18/2012 1:48:00 AM)


    A wonderful expession of connection (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, May 17, 2012



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