Patrick White

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

The Object Of Our Devotion - Poem by Patrick White

The object of our devotion
finally asks from us
the very eyes that dazzled us into obedience,
and leads us like a wind,
the last breath we'll ever take,
in the guise of a woman
who beckons at the top of the stairwells and thermals
where the hawk wheels,
a spark of the sun,
to follow her down deeper into a darkness
that even the dead shun
like the deleted shadows of noon,
if I would be her perfect lover.
If I would be her perfect lover,
and the fever of my demon
not go mad looking for her
like water on the moon
to ease the fire, ease the fire
that blazes in my bones,
I must abdicate my consummation
in the intimate otherness of me
and forfeit my eyes
to the deathly absence of the sea
that has unmoored me like a wave.
If I would be her perfect lover
and lift the veil
to see the face she only shows the stars,
I must take myself down
like a torn sail in a storm
and let the current heave me where it will,
the lonely word whose endless sentence is a soul.
I must say her beauty,
I must root her flower in the starfields
and vanquish time from the garden;
if I would be her perfect lover,
I must enlarge my emptiness like space
to linger with the subtle fragrances
of the silks and auroras of her mind
that blow the stars around like dust
and pick the galaxies like dandelions
and raise them like suns above the streaming skylines of her hair
flowing out behind her, the wake of a waterbird
landing like a blossom, the moon, a wing-weary emotion
on the night sky
she keeps to herself
when she bathes alone in the milk of the undulant light
on the other side of her eyes.
If I would be her perfect lover,
and my heart, and my blood,
my mind and my spirit, my art,
this poem says I must
give up this busy corner in the passing world
where my voice
rows and rows
in the leaking lifeboat of an empty coffin
and the guitar in my arms
I've tuned to the furthest stars
who have looked the longest
and were the first to believe
their fire could live,
is a rudder on the wind;
if I would be her perfect lover I must leave
my constellation and my bleeding throne,
this courtyard of pleading gravestones
modelling for the dead they've made a trend of,
and taking off the polluted water-robe
I wore to my last coronation like an atmosphere,
breathe myself out,
the vapour of a dying candle,
and enter the darkness and the solitude and the silence,
slipping like the pollen of a many-petalled theme
into the alloy of a sweeter dream
than ever slept like honey
in the labyrinths of her hive.
If I would be her perfect lover,
I must not amass her private thresholds with my need
like autumns and autumns of junkmail
banked against her door,
nor implore her to patch like an oracular island
the wounded sails of my ongoing shipwreck
by threading my blood
through the needle in the eye of the siren
I came in on like an abandoned message in a bottle
allured by the tides of her song;
I must not wire myself like spam
and blow up like a holy war
vying for grace
and weighing her place like a feather
in the scales of an insurgent creed,
a star gone nova among the stars,
bury her alive and shining
in the black hole
of the afterlife I am.
If I would be her perfect lover,
if I would be her perfect lover,
if I would be her perfect lover
and old bones screech like owls of chalk across the night,
their talons sheathed
like the thorns and swords of the sun
behind the capes of her roses,
and the matador ungored
by the horns of her crescents
on the bull of the moon; if
old bones would blossom
and the dead branch leaf,
the crutch and the baton and the scuttled coffin
would marrow the dry wood
with the urgencies of the orchards again,
then I must heed the wine
and not the snake in the goblet
she pours out of me like music.
I must not labour in the occult mines
of her diamond infallibilities
like a floodlight
that makes everything blindingly clear,
if I would be her perfect lover
and see how she glows by her own light
in the darkness of her own depths
like a fish or a firefly or a vine
or the flame of a star
tending the brittle wicks of the blind
as if they were the tendrils of a supple candle
and not the black monks of a lifeless paradigm
that flares without light
like the hood of a cobra
that's sloughed its last eclipse.
Remember, my heart, how thin the moon is
and not rub it away like white-gold
at the snap of a thumb and finger
but lay it down gently like a kiss on dark water
like the skin of an eye,
the flake of the water gilder,
the first precious breath of your longing
to shake the abyss of the darkness inside
like a white dove at a black window,
if you would be her perfect lover.
And you, my voice, you must become a journey
to what is far and out of reach,
and make boats and birds
of the worn-out shoes of your words
and learn to fly like the barefoot wind
with stars and wings at your heels,
and take down those old bells
that have withered on the bough like apples
and set the seed free from the corpse
and sing like the first of the dead
to sire the living. Not enough
to say your love; you must listen, deeply listen
to the silence within you
that burns like a flame
in the night crown of the lily
and draws you to it
like a gypsy out of the shadows
and know the thread of the candle is the length of a life
that binds the flesh to its own consumption
and you must enter wholly
into your own immolation like a star in the sun
or beg forever at the gates of the fire
like a snake for a mother tongue
that isn't the rearing hiss
of a forsaken bliss,
if you would be her perfect lover.
And you, my body, are you not a flower
rooted in the greater wisdom of the devil
but decked out in the feathers
of an earthbound angel; sometimes
a great volcanic rose
that sheds its igneous petals like islands
and covers the villages on its slopes
under eyelids of ash like a dream
that won't awake for eras
to the curiosity of the shovels that exhume the agony
of being buried alive in yourself like an underground fire
moving from root to root like frustrated desire?
What prophet could stand
at the door of your furnace
like a school janitor on a winter morning
and do anything more than add fire to fire
by admonishing your rage
with the strap of his tongue?
O you who have sustained me like a road, like blood,
and never asked where we were going,
who have endured me like a wound
beyond your healing for years,
and never left my bedside,
what an unacknowledged sage you have been
to temper the hot iron of all these celestial blades
that rise like the grass of heaven
out of these deserts and deserts of stars
at the mere whisper
of the shadow of the mahdi at noon
drawing the first crescent of the new moon from his scabbard;
what wisdom to temper the spirit
like a horse of blood
in the cool troughs
of hunger, desire, and sleep. You have been
water and air and bread on the moon for me,
and led me to the tree
I could sit under in the shade
of a woman in blossom
who smiled like the wile of the wine
in the hand of the stranger
who has worn my features
as I have his
like the inside of a face
turned toward its own light,
that's never known a mirror.
What could I possibly say to you
who are the branch
of my eloquent leafing except
remember, remember,
when you ache with empires,
that all these worlds within worlds as all worlds must
will end like squalls of dust
at her threshold,
and when we're colder than a windowpane
it will be her breath that moves us like a glacier to tears,
and on her windowsill
where we linger with the dead leaves of an unwatered art,
a patina of dark matter among the new lucidities,
new myths fleshing the bones of the constellations
they throw across the sky to prophecy
the things that shall be and the things that shall not,
it will be her finger that traces the words
that will scatter us again
like birds of the morning in a gust of light,
and it will be the sky that clings to her eye
that we will walk under like a figure in a dream
disembodied by the night
looking for any sign of ourselves
like faces we once lost to the stream
when we danced with her
under the chandeliers of the cherries
and she were the whole of our theme,
if you would be her perfect lover
and not just another king of quicksand
sinking on the throne of his own domain.
And as to the spirit, as to that ambidextrous sleight of the light
that gnashes its teeth
like lightning in a cloud
until it flame out like revelation
from the eye of God
and glimpse the ocean of its own vast features
in the merest scintillance of the furthest star
arcing like the tongue of a serpent of light
in the darkest depths of its own unscrutability;
who could say anything about its origins
that doesn't drown the listener
in the widening wake of the wind?
Most of the world goes on like a secret;
and what do we ever know
but the little bit of ourselves
we overhear amid the clamour,
shadows through a keyhole,
people breaking like twigs on the pathway behind us?
But the secret of one is the spirit of all,
the same finger of silence held up to myriad lips,
so there's no need to lament
we're not in on it
when it's the secret itself that leads us to see,
a firefly in a valley of mist,
that the best place to hide is out in the open
with everyone else. How many times, my spirit,
washed away in a dark tide
that's never known an island,
have you come looking for me like a dolphin,
and found me
and nudged me back into the vine-covered lifeboat of the world?
Life is the mother of death
who gave up her own
in giving birth to it,
but you are unborn and unperishing
and your deepest joy is playing
freely alone in the world you array
like the nations of rocks and stars and willows
spread across the hills
where you bed for the night to dream
of the mornings that have yet to come upon you
like clarity to an uncertain lover.
What shadow of a star,
what radiance on the mindstream,
could spar with your flamboyance,
when you are the fire, you are the breath
that crazes my delusions like a poet
into this body of burnished gold
you have raised like lead
from the coffin of a seed long buried
in the fertile valleys of the book of the dead?
And yet and yet and yet
if I were to be her perfect lover,
I must not imperil the night
with deeper dangers and ordeals
than I have the courage to requite
when the daylily fails
and the light is breached in the wombs of my sails
and I wait for you like the premium
on all these returnable grails
to fill me again with the quest
for the coast of a spiritual rumour
that thrives and confides in itself like a woman
far to the west of the world's disclaimer
there are no more continents to risk.
You, more than all, my fleetness, my caul,
the kite and comet of my fall to paradise
when you're the voice in the fire
that speaks to me in tongues,
or scarfing the air with phantoms
from the eye of the sacred lake
whose holiest dream is the loneliest bird
of a free imagination, you must
seep like water at night through her roots
as she's closed up in her flower
and summon the radiance of your lightning
to flash from her tears
when she mourns for herself in the night
like a lost earring,
if I would be her perfect lover.
If I would be her perfect lover,
you must not rise and abase yourself
like the suppliant sun and the sky
that touch their foreheads,
facing west,
to the earth she walks upon,
huddled like wildflowers in the dying light;
you must do this for me, my spirit, my starfeather,
you must weave the subtlest silk of your radiance
on the looms of the space that surrounds her
like the master spider behind a Persian rug
into a vision of life
where the beauty of things that must fly
doesn't evaporate like a mirage of water
in a desert eye,
and the lie between the parentheses of the moon
has no fangs,
and the stars don't burn underfoot,
and the all night windows aren't widows of glass,
and love isn't the maiden voyage of a flagship
that lowers its pennant of blood on the bottom,
when the sea smashes its bottle against the scuttled prow.
You must befriend her solitude without intrusion,
you must be everywhere an open gate,
the wings of the crow and the dove
that are hinged to the days and nights of her passing,
and in everything, in the rock, in the rain,
in the small nugget of the bird
that beats like a heart in the dark,
there must be a whisper of stars,
the suggestion of another world
breathing in the shadows of the lanterns of this
like a door left ajar for the night,
where the dark lucidities
that hang their weary bells in the lost groves
of the shrines she's fled
like divinity from its likeness,
by morning,
are the first words of the light
to begin these worlds within worlds anew,
if I would be her perfect lover,
and drawing myself out like a sword of water
from the wound of my oceanic view,
succumb like a wave on the shore of the island I belong to,
you must be, as you have been to me,
the earthly excellence that abides
in every starbound breath of what the world can mean
when the sails that enter the bay of the rose
like the leaves of a distant lover
are truer than green.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, May 31, 2012

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