Patrick White

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

The Closer To Death, The More Risks You Take In Life - Poem by Patrick White

The closer to death, the more risks you take in life.
Whatever's left of your dark abundance, you spend it here
on things you know you won't be able to take for granted
in a few light years, windows and wildflowers, dragonflies
and Venus going down blazing blue-white in a tangerine sunset,
the haiku novel you write spontaneously in your head
about the future of the red-haired kid with floured skin and freckles.
The way the light waxes lyrical about the larkspur.
Even the hairy scab of the spider you found
stranded in the bathtub after he'd put himself in peril
to come out of the darkness for a drink. And the long
pathway to heaven you laid over the side
like a two ply Milky Way of toilet paper
so it could be gone, as it was, in the morning
with blessings on its head and house. So much time
and then there's forever. We don't run out of it
we just plunge into one hell of a lot more of it
than we can use.

So given what I know
as one of the few certainties that have
brutally enhanced my intensity for life,
is going to happen to me sooner than later,
twenty springs, twenty summers, twenty autumns
if I'm lucky beaded out like new moons
on the optimistic abacus of my fingers and toes,
how could I not, like Tolstoy walking with Turgenev,
at the crepuscular end of an epic life,
crush flowers against my face, or let the stars
tattoo my skin with whatever constellations they wish?
How could I not admire the immensity of the light
thinly smeared on the delicately leaded stained glass window
of the fly's wing, lying like a black maple key
on the windowsill at the foot of the sky it couldn't unlock?

I absorb every mystically specific detail
the way I breathe. The inconceivable uncanniness
of its being here, just as it is without amendment, at all,
and me as well, to witness that all there is
to my unlikely presence is the fly on the windowsill.
Is the unknown star I'm trying to name
the constellation it's so furiously from
shining through the crowns of the birch groves
pulling their leaves up around their throats
as autumn approaches for all of us. So far
not moribund about death or the passage of the flowers.
If it were a bad thing, the animals would know,
and be afraid of it, and yet I've witnessed
some of the highest summits of dignity
in the way an animal dies, accepting what must be,
with such grace and dignity, even in the clutch
of great agony, I just have to remember
what I saw in their eyes as they looked at me calmly
as death underwhelmed them on the inside
without the slightest disappointment
that this was the end of life. And no panic,
no sense of possibly having lived it wrong.
Just the calm of a flightfeather making a soft landing.

All my life I've tried to have the courage of my calling
and look into dark spaces and forbidden realms,
fathomless abysses that staggered the imagination
with their imageless prolixity, the hidden harmonies
of archetypal starmud subliminally suggesting
themes and metaphors of picture-music that might
shed light upon my emptiness and yours as if
we, too, were hidden secrets that wished
to be known creatively, the way the moon is,
when the seminal dew is on the grass like the waters
of a breaking womb, though a lunar life is strictly visionary,
or there's an orgasmic frenzy of silver fish
flashing their lunacy like sabres of light
in their urgency for life in the rising tide
of a providence that inspires them when it's high
to do or die, or expire in a tidal pool of shore-huggers.
I've looked into the dragon's eyes directly
like two switchblades in a back alley
and recalling Rilke's advice, tried poetically
to kiss them back into princesses I've neglected too long,
to humanize them back into my good graces again
like the dark side of the moon taking off its deathmask,
and turning around, showing me its face, eye to eye,
as if mirrors hadn't been invented yet,
and I wasn't a bird that had to be afraid of turning into stone.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, August 23, 2012



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