Patrick White

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

Someone Lingers In Your Absence Like An Icon - Poem by Patrick White

Someone lingers in your absence like an icon, a gate
to an open field where the white horse
that stood in the tall grass, grazing on its solitude
like a phase of the moon come to earth
is gone. A bird, a purple martin with so much
distance and disappearance in it wings
and the open vastness of the skies it was absorbed by
I can barely hear you singing from here
over the raving of an unkempt wind on a crazy night
when the ghosts are rioting in their graves
like old leaves without attachments at the feet of the new
and gravity receives the grave goods of the tree
as do I these strange epiphanies of you
that haunt me retroactively like apple-bloom.

And the depth of the emptiness that informs
the substance of my imaginings, devastates me
like an eclipse slowly swallowing my heart
like a black cataract of snake skin I keep
trying to shake like a cosmic egg without much luck.

As if I were bleeding out like a rose after
the green thorns have hardened into fangs
that are killing and curing me at the same time.
Some nights I just want to join my emptiness to yours
and be done with it, no more of this, no more.

No more of watching the beauty of the world
burn out into a dark radiance that makes me
want to gouge my eyes out so I can see it without wincing.
Without feeling so wounded by the abundance of the rose
that blooms and disappears like the auroral apparitions
of a widow in veils of spider webs and black lightning,
thinking it might be you under there somewhere I can't go
without losing you again. Check-mate. Pain.
And it isn't anything either of us can do anything about.

It just goes down that way. The absence of your shining,
small nonrenewable gestures of your heart and hands
vividly recalled like modest butterfly volumes of poetry
blowing down an abandoned street at night in the rain, you
sewing a patch on my heart with the delicacy of a needle
mending a flying carpet grounded like a wavelength of light.

As I am now that you've become that rip in my heart
all the stars are pouring out of like a puncture wound
I let go right through me like needles and gamma rays
piercing the heart of a voodoo doll of dark matter
that makes me feel like wooden puppet of light
carved out of one of these black walnut trees.

Endure. Participate. See. Wonder.
Praise. Celebrate. Mourn. Do the next best thing.
And when you're hurting your worst, sing.
And even when I'm soldiering my way through stone
like a flying fish in the wrong medium,
or walking alone with the Alone through the woods,
just to meet you where you ask me to when you call
and I come like a burning bridge down to the river,
wondering if I might have lived here once in another lifetime,
I do say these things to myself like medicinal chants
and preventative medicine, healing totems with benign effect
hung in the medicine bag slung around my neck.
Sweet grass and a pinch of sacred earth, just in case
I forget how to dance on my own grave
with grace and flare and style and an enigmatic smile
that really means it if it really means anything at all.

Or not succumb to this ice-age of a bell
my tongue is stuck to like a child's to a wire fence,
or this black diamond nightbird
that cuts my darkness to the quick
because it's got nothing to sing about
that can answer the call of the living for someone
on a foggy hill to come to the rescue of the empty lifeboat
drifting like the corpse of a dead swan downriver,
except the dead air of this strange place
where space is indelibly bruised by the passing
of the beauty it once contained like stars in a Mason jar.

Like a candle in the lantern of a skull
I've carried before me like a nightwatchman
on the edge of a dangerous precipice for lightyears
until I lost my footing and fell in one night,
as I once did into love, and learned to see in the dark
I was growing wings where I had none before
and looking up from the bottom of an empty wishing well
noticed the dead still blooming like stars
in the white shadows of the sun at midnight.

And out of the corners of my eyes
when what I can't see what need to know about being alive
comes looking for me like the sacred syllable
on the lips of a pearl diver on the moon in total eclipse
like a kiss out of nowhere, comes like the singing bird
to the dead branch in my heart
that's having trouble remembering how to blossom
after a long winter, as if you'd summoned me to the trees
like a purple passage in the Book of the Dead,
to teach me how to take the pain
and through the alchemy of the grief
that flows through my heartwood like light and rain
turn it into life again, as if every leaf
were a new loveletter from the dead
I've been saving for years like expurgated starmaps
illustrated by exiled constellations in Braille
to a spiritual lost and found at my fingertips
where they know who you are, and they've seen you
like a soft moonrise glowing through the willows
down by the river that weeps like a black mirror
for the stars and waterbirds in passing
that appear and disappear each in its time
and you wait for me like the longing of the dead
to make some kind of sign, however simple and austere,
the withered star of a wild rose without a flower,
that let's me know you're near, you're here
rooted in me on earth where we've both come
to renew our shining from the bottom up to the blossom.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

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