Patrick White

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

Paid The Rent - Poem by Patrick White

Paid the rent. Roof over my head for another month.
Car bills coming up, and contraband cigarettes;
got to feed myself, provide what is needed,
address myself to elemental concerns,
keep my body clean, my clothes, the house, the sheets,
my wits about me on the streets,
and my heart wary of vagrant urgencies
that take a bride like an ambulance to an emergency
just for the ride, and ends up dedicating themselves like a bloodbank
to a wound that isn't in the book
and won't be healed,
though I apply the moon like a poultice,
like a scar with a dark side that's always concealed.

Even who I thought I was,
more life behind me than ahead,
no more than a passing flaw of feeling,
gusts of birds in the groves of a sacred delirium
where the fools make fun of the saints
and it takes ages to understand
why the blood writes and paints
what the spirit sees of a world
that stains the grace of its mystic absurdity
by forgetting how to play with God, the faceless one.

And things are done that rot like bells
and torture and war and rape and winning sells
peanuts in the Colosseum
and no one knows who I am
because they're clinging like frost
to their own faces
in dangerously intimate places.

And that's okay; that's okay too
because I'm just an empty lifeboat passing through
the eye of a dream that won't wake anybody up,
just another prophetic crack in the cup
that proposes a toast to its host like a grail
as we fail and fail and fail our way through life
all the way to the top of our decline
like a parachute tangled in a powerline
that didn't know how to jump toward paradise.

And I wouldn't advise anyone giving or taking advice,
but I will go out and encompass the day like an accident
that didn't happen to me,
and there will be moments like mini-blackholes
that will grain my image into the ferocious clarity
of a face that bends space like a lens
to cloak the offence of my rarity
among these others who are less
than mysteriously me.

And I will confess in lonely parking lots
that are abused like hookers
that life is a shabby affair with a disaffected angel
with one wing in and one wing out
of a censored bed on a movie-set
that can't disarm the camera.
But why defame the rehearsal
if life goes on tour without you,
tired of the timing of the same old lines
and reruns of a mind that was never released?

How many suns, how many moons,
how many shadows cast by Venus ago
was the air sweet, and the light elated
by what it shone down upon
that grew eyes to turn the shining into seeing,
and revelled inconceivably in being
with nothing amiss in the mirrors of bliss
that had never been stained
by a suicide note in smudge-proof lipstick
before it opened a vein with a flick of the moon
to let its blood off the leash like a kiss
with a passion for going all the way?

I doubt if there's ever been such a day,
but it will do me no good
to widow away the grief
by treating belief to a candle or two
that don't cast the same shadows I do
when I'm trying to make sense of death
with ghosts on my breath,
and gates in my heart that gape at the fact
that none of us are ever coming back
to expose the disparity
between the living and the dead.

And the day is proving horrible
and the little light I hoped
to lamp my way along with
is caught by the wing like a star in a spiderweb
and I'm doing everything right
according to the detective in me
but I'm beginning to suspect a clause in my DNA
has defected like an eye through a loophole in felicity
and there's no way left that even I can be me
and endure this agony that waterboards
everything I have to say
about all the things I haven't done
and worse, much worse, to come, to unconfess
when I'm indicted like reasonable junkmail
on the threshold of the wrong address
that picks me out of the line-up like a refugee
even though the sun pulled an eclipse over its head
and rendered its blazing blind to rob the dead
who lie like bad credit in wounded wallets
trying to make the downpayment on an afterlife.

And who knows? Maybe there's an afterlaugh as well
peached and primed with salt and slime for the cynics.
Or maybe I should spend the last twenty years of my life,
if there's that much left of myself to pass on,
surfing women like channels to find one I'm on.
Or if all is delusion, absurdity, and despair
and only those too fearful not to, care,
and the air is noxious and the water obscene
and the earth too bilious to bear,
and meaning only the thorn of the facts
and the beauty of the wounded rose is treated
like just another heart attack,
and powerful leaders are seated on skulls
throwing leftovers like people behind them to gulls
hovering in the widening wake of their sterns
as the national garbage barge drifts rudderless downriver
like a corpse in the Ganges
snatched like laundry from the line
by sacred crocodiles,
why shouldn't I dispose of myself like surgical waste
or crush cigarettes into my arm in self-disgust
until I am all sunspots and craters on the moon
or master all the tongues of PsychoBabylon
slashing drastic alphabets with cuneiform razors
into the moist, starmud tablets of my flesh
like the tight mouths of new moons
unspooling the same old shit.

Sometimes I think I must be out of it
to still be here, to hang on, not to let go,
like those autumn leaves that cling all winter
like gnostic gospels in the snow
to the only tree they know.

Time isn't an abstract concept
when it's happening to your face
and space is closing up behind you like holy water
that washes you off like a bloodstain
and heals itself
by vetting your name to forget you
like an unwelcome tenant at an old address.

And the day is a Nazi firehydrant on standby
in a blizzard of ashes from the chimneys of Auschwitz,
and even the fires in the mouths of the lion furnaces
are disgraced by the taste of the human deformity
that waters its womb with glass
and bubbles with eyes that are blown and cast
like fanatical jewels through storefront windows
that shatter like icestorm chandliers
and scapegoat constellations,
or the only eye-witness to a murder of mirrors,
or nations.

Who lacks so much light at noon
that they withdraw like black holes
into the bloodlines of their shadows to hate
everything their glory can't illuminate?
The candle in the lamp can't soil the eye
and the sun burns all day without soot
and the flowers may keep
the bees like golden chimneysweeps,
and creosote turn to honey in the mouth of the hive,
but genocide vents like money and no one is left alive.

And of this infectious darkness is the day composed
and my spirit in the background
nothing but the universal hiss
of the deaths of millions, and hardly a tear,
except for the pathetic mercy of thoughts
that come down one by one like blunt windows
and the eyelids of the quicker guillotines
that couldn't stand to look at the horror
of what a species with a view can do to advance pain.
And there are skulls like sterile moons among the vegetables
that blight the food the starving grow to feed me
and atrocities in the bank that certify my cheque
and wash the blood off with diamonds
that shine with the lustre of rain
in the gutters of pain.

And it occurs to me in a shopping mall
in a flurry of wayward consumers
that there's always a quota
of people somewhere in the world
who must labour and live and give and die like aphids
for every ant here chatting up the cashier like yogurt.
But those are not cherries in your cheese, my friend,
they're body parts in death carts, crushed hearts
in the makeshift morgue of your pantry.

And the day takes an evil, surrealistic twist
like asphalt and licorice and the odour of snakes
and I don't have what it takes
to pull up stakes
and find a new grave for the vampire
and every princess I meet has already been kissed
and every rib of the child I used to be
is the rung of a burning ladder
that hasn't grown enough to rescue me.
And I'd put my hand on the news and swear
I'm not the man in the videocam nightmare
in the jackpot airport
with the backpack on,
tweaking his pixels with lightning
to avenge the death of his mirrors,
but there's no end, no end, no end
to this labyrinth of bull-leaping shadows
that threads me like blood through the eye of the needle
to mend what I didn't tear
like this day's black sail
that spiders across the web lines of my horizons
at a slip of a stitch in time
to poison my voice with moonlight and lime.

And it isn't as if I haven't tried to cool
these feverish jewels of seeing
in the eyes of the dragon sages
and worn out my share of straitjackets
and picked the psychological lice
out of my golden fleece on the funny farm
as if I were panning for mountains in the mindstream,
looking for the dicey cornerstones of the lost worlds
that have slipped from my shoulders like an avalanche
or the stools I've kicked out from under me
when I found a good branch
to upstage the star of the posse
like the understudy of a dying art
that knows its part, and hangs on every line.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, May 26, 2012



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