The Serpent - Poem by Patrick White
The serpent sits enthroned
at the top of its own stairwell,
helically reposing in its own empyrean
like an August hawk
coiling up its own thermals;
its fangs, a stargate
to an unknown afterlife, emancipation,
and the jewel of its head,
the first stone thrown,
a small planet without
the eyelid of a sky,
a nugget of mystic uranium,
looped in a turban of orbits,
a sacred arrowhead
that flys from itself like a bow
drawn back long before the wind
knew its first feather.
the sword that kills is the sword that saves.
the drubbing of the rain on a tin roof,
the hiss of traffic
flaring like matches down the sleek asphalt,
if I were to say
I want the emotional life of space,
I don't know if I'd mean it,
but I'm so weary
of being this slow crisis of a bird
mesmerized by the swaying eyes
of the black lightning
that has caught me in the net
it weaves of my own nerves,
I want to douse my heart
in the next providential tide of tears
like a torch I put out in the night
to see better in the dark.
I asked for wings
and my spine was adorned with fire.
I asked for water
and I'm a fish on the wind.
and now this desert I hoped to remain,
a craze of sand,
has grown teeth
and is overgrazing the starfields like pyramids.
I don't think
I will ever recover
from the wound I received
like the hidden twin of the moon,
trying to love the world, myself, women, people.
Every word was a road, a pulse, an eye,
a dropp of blood
I could ride to the end of and beyond
into the implacable subtlety
of my own empty, ageless temples
where even the silence isn't ghost enough
to conjure a medium
to jar the table as a sign,
and death is buried in its own vacuity
like an embryo in a mask without eyes.
I was bound by my own boundlessness,
my nerves, wicks in the abyss
that enhanced the darkness
by cleaving me like a tree
vision after vision,
with every blink of the eye
that wiped the mirror clean of me like an ax
until I understood
that even the most enlightened watersheds of wisdom
are just a smear of perception
on the least dropp of that splendor
I went looking for like a cloud
saturated with the ancient seas of the moon
that was covered by my own looking.
I lay at the bottom
of my oceanic odyssey,
trying not to sink,
but I wanted to give something back
for what I felt I had received;
not an ethic or a metaphysic,
but a spontaneous action of the blood
that remembers it was once a rose.
I wanted to return spring like a water-key to the moon;
I wanted to harvest the shadows
of my own non-existence
and break bread
with the famine of ghosts
that came like royalty to beg food from their servant,
blind doors standing on the thresholds of awareness
asking me to address myself
to the terrible openness
of their unanswerable need.
I have eaten my own ashes
in the furnace of every star
I have ever looked upon.
I have drowned in the wells
of the faceless, fathomless mirrors,
and every woman I have ever drunk from
was a grail with an enigmatic black pearl in it
lustrous as the moon in eclipse.
O promises of bliss
that tuned the webs of the spiders
like a guitarist with perfect pitch
to the frequency of my spinal cord
that I might entangle a star
in the silk of my conceiving;
that I might seize a firefly
in the fangs of my thought
and taste the honey of the lantern
that lit my dark corner
in the era of the moment.
O sweetest of lies to ripen with longing
like the eyes of a child in the darkness
far from home.
I was trying to find a road
that fit my walking like shoes on a mountain;
I was trying to walk on water with mystic crutches;
I was looking for an arrow
dipped in the blood of a serpent with wings,
set aflame by a demonic star
and feathered by spiritual fire
to restring me like a bow
severed like the branch of a sacred grove
by the oracular blade of the moon.
I was too deeply sheathed in the truth
to appreciate the arcane sagacity of my lies.
I stood like a shadow in the burning doorway of my own fire
and looked deeply into the night
to answer my own knocking
like the echo of a stranger in the darkness,
walking away from someone who didn't know
how to greet himself.
I was a tree crucified on a man,
a vandal in the shrine of the moment,
bleeding like stained-glass,
a rosary of vertebrae and skulls
reconstructed in the future museum of now
I played myself into like a funeral plan.
Now everywhere the wind is a pilgrim,
I leave my heart like a shrine
I will never return to.
And the sadness, and the solitude
and the vastness of my insignificance
is the shadow of a bird on a cloud.
The only way to perfect my defeat
was to sit at the feet of my most cherished delusion
like a rootless flower watching over a coffin,
then rise like the wind
from the rubbish of the shedding,
the loneliest pillar and sole cornerstone of the sky.
Now my apish profundities
no longer crack fleas of light like stars
I picked out of God's burning beard
with the forceps of the moon.
Now I am infested with constellations.
I no longer turn the pages of the waterlilies
like the holy books of an inspired swamp.
I no longer seep down to the river
to drink from the moon
like a serpent at the water's edge
and watch the panicked angels jumping
from the reflection of an uncrossed bridge
that collapsed like a covenant with hell.
I no longer shred my heart
like a secret document
in an abandoned embassy of swans
looking for asylum further south,
tormented by the unattainability
of a woman's beauty,
looking for sanctuary
in the ashes of a black sail
that flared like a poppy with passion
at every gust of desire
that silvered the trembling grass
with sidereal aspirations.
Why bother to laminate your lovers, your legends?
Let them go like autumn leaves and smoke,
the last breath you took
before you were interred
like a scream in the larynx of a deaf-mute,
a foreign currency you couldn't spend at home.
Naked is the only way to dress for the rain,
but it doesn't matter which
from the wardrobe of all your many lies
you wear to the fire that waits for you
like a fledgling waits for its plumage.
And this is a long river
and this is a long day and a night
and maybe only the silence is listening
to what the stars are preaching
from the pulpits of the flowers,
and this that says me now
is just the promo for the intensive care ward
of a new religion
the founders are always the first to betray;
but when I truly let go
it was my falling
that taught me to patch my shoes with the sky.
And have you come this far,
passed through this many gates
for wisdom, compassion, freedom,
wandered aimlessly until you could not tell
the stars from the sand,
the journey from the arrival,
suffered worse than all the things you cannot say
until you forgot what you were looking for
in the first place, until
you despised what you craved the most?
I don't remember how long I slept
before my dreaming woke me up
and I realized
no fool could defame my solitude
and that life
was only the story of a scar
looking for the knife that inflicted it
like a shadow
in the forsaken valleys
of the mountains of the moon.
Looking for a pearl of light
I had to plunge into a darkness
deeper than anything
my eyes had ever given birth to before.
I had to swallow the key before I could open the door.
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