Patrick White

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

The Leaves Tremble - Poem by Patrick White

The leaves tremble at the tips
of their half-denuded branches
against a flat grey sky,
the ruination of yellow and green
and the maples afire.
The house to myself;
four hours to myself. My head
jammed with the business
of swarming blackflies,
the crucial trivia of the morning,
crankshafts and cabs,
fitting the lid
over the spoon in the coffee can,
drinking brewer's yeast
to coat my neuronic synapses
with vitamin B
to counteract the stress
that just handed me the single rose
of an unrequited cold sore.

And I'm chain-smoking
contraband cigarettes,
and I just lit up a joint
and I've got enough money,
I've got enough smokes,
and the coffee's not bad
and I don't even mind
this ashen hour of October
as I wait for the mud in the puddle to settle
the turmoil of the soiled cloud,
the ecliptic commotion of the meteor shower
to stop smearing and smashing
the silence of the eyeless mirror,
and my feelings are waiting for mouths
like the interlaced fingers
of a Druid who doesn't know
what he wants to say
but knows how to say it
a hundred and fifty ways.

I look for the column shift
and put the world in park.
I look for my heart
and it's a small, scuffed planet
trying to throw a curve at me
as if I were nothing but space.
I'm the key to a forgotten lock
in the spirit's lost and found,
and part of me likes it this way
because for several eras now
the sleeves have been too long
on the winter straitjacket
time sized and knitted from my solitude,
and I hate the stingy herb of the colour.

I have lived like wings without a sky,
fire in the heartwood of a weeping willow,
and the birds piled up on my windowsill
like the craven junkmail
of an insincere migration that kept turning back
and my tears were always pall-bearers
at the death of water,
and I couldn't understand,
couldn't fathom the shallowness
of the infinite interpretations
that sprawled like lavish waves
across the sandy inclinations of my mind
with shells and starfish and seaweed for proof.

How could everyone not be right,
each according to the ruler of their spine,
a full measure of the truth?
The universe five ten and a half feet tall,
and flowers that taste like stars to the blind,
and wounds that heal like scalpels
in the hands of the surgical moon,
and emergency rooms full of clowns,
and shovels like iron valentines
indifferent to gardens and corpses;
and the beautiful arches of the women
who collapsed like aqueducts and bridges,
the stones of their plundered geometry
collaged into the gaps of makeshift hovels
to keep the cold night drafts out.

And I put it all down as a poet.
I was faithful to the vagrancy of my voice.
I offered the first born of my blood
to the law of my heart
and my soul was an ardent shapeshifter
with the wardrobe of a theatrical poppy
forgetting the lines of a dream.

I was an arsonist waiting in the dark
for the bell of a woman in the doorway,
and my cells were haunted
by the ghosts of the vacant thrones
of dark intensities
that swept me like rain over the masks and hills
of faceless domains.
I squandered myself
like confetti fire and cherry blossoms
at the weddings of water and gasoline.

Everywhere was threshold and door,
and the world a ghetto of exiles,
a refugee camp for stars and humans alike,
an oil drum under an urban overpass
where I spray-bombed the hunting magic
of the beast masters
who danced to keep warm
under the horns and hides of their sacred shadows.

I have never been anyone
I ever thought I was.
Alone and alone and alone,
the hidden eye under a robe of light,
gazing out at the world from the inside,
I could never claim my thoughts and emotions as my own,
and without realization
I could be the vision
but I could never say that it was mine;
and slowly I was poured out on the ground
like blood and blue wine
and what was left was space, was
the whole palace in a single cornerstone,
a way of keeping everything in mind
and mind in everything,
of holding the world with an open hand,
letting the rivers
slip through the delta of my fingers
back to the sea they issued from
and I was always the last dropp of water
to leave the moon. Empty and dry,
I lived on ashes and salt, a gnawing thing,
breaking its teeth on minerals,
trying to build a house of transformation
with glass nails, speaking
in the liberated tongues of broken mirrors.

How many days, deserts, dragons,
surviving on the marrow
of thorns, fangs, claws,
on the exhausted fruits of the fire,
on the flakes of blood
I shed like brittle roses,
like the paint of a condemned post office.

There was no more meat on the bones of the gate
and my heart turned into a loaf of coal.
My annihilation was perfected
in the crucible of my skull
by an excruciating isolation
that wept like the swords of diamond clarities
and the women and the children and the books,
and the abandoned shrine
in the tiny grove of my name,
fell away behind me
like wharves in my wake,
points of departure,
everything I'd ever cherished
lost in the undertow of the abyss.

Days of defamation and reptilian discretion.
I lived on nothing, a habit of breathing,
my heart a looping reflex,
terrified by the carnivorous grey of everything,
the short somewhere in the house
that would burn everything down,
the unforeseen event
that would snatch me
from the auroral approach of joy
by making me stand at the window
behind the stone curtains
of a harsher delusion,
always returning me to the same moment
as if a lesson I hadn't quite mastered yet,
convinced again and again I was a chronic clown
proofreading the encyclopedic obituary
of someone who didn't know when to quit.

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Poem Submitted: Sunday, April 15, 2012

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