There Are Memories Seared Into My Soul - Poem by Patrick White
There are memories seared into my soul
like tattoos on the inside of my eyelids,
starmaps that lost sight of their own light
a long time ago, still shining in the dark
with the vaguest of hopes they still might
illuminate themselves somehow along the way.
The most intense, when memory is an event,
not a passive recollection, those that scorch my seeing
like the Shroud of Turin, or the Northern Lights,
with images of love that takes the mundanity
of what wasn’t even noticed at the time
and makes it burn, God, it burns like a sunspot
on the heart enflamed by the mystically sublime
specificity of it forever passing into oblivion
as if into a fearful dream that vapourizes my eyes
when I try to follow it into the dark.
My brother and sisters and I getting ready
for school in the morning, the Beatles on the radio
singing I Want To Hold Your Hand, and my mother
wrapping peanut butter and jam sandwiches
in wax paper, a long board sticking out of
the woodstove, everyone temperamentally busy
about something petty and crucial, and in the air
such a riot of love and hope before hope came
to be understood as just the better-mannered upside of despair,
and the energy in the world on those navy blue mornings
as new and intriguing as we were to it. Gone.
For good. Once. The fragrance of a dream.
Did we even exist? I’m lightyears away and alone now
but it sticks like the koan of a crow in my throat.
I can write about it, but still, it’s a paper cut to my heart.
A postcard with no return address from the edge of nowhere.
Where did we go? Why didn’t we wake up together
as we always used to like dream figures
grounded like root fires in each other’s being?
Was I even there, trying to get the part in my hair right
as my sister squealed to my mother I was hogging the mirror?
Barely a hair’s breadth of a wavelength among the stars,
a homely vignette in the vastness of space
of a happier time, what could it mean to anything
in the radiant immensities of this unanswerable abyss
that I should endow this trivial thread of my unravelling
with the significance of a strong rope I’m bound to
like an umbilical cord to the rest of the universe?
Dark mother, explain. Why do the waters of life
taste of such heartbreaking farewell as we’re
washed away by them like alluvial starmud out to sea?
If you saw me now, would you recognize me
by my shining, like those flowers I used to steal for you
from the neighbours on the more floral side of life,
you taught me the names of as you tamped them into the earth?
Flowers were a good start in life for a thief of fire
who worked his way up like a cat burglar
into stealing stars through an open window
in the houses of the zodiac when their lights went out.
The white lettering on the blue Evening in Paris
bottles of perfume I used to buy for you
will always remind me of the nebular Pleiades,
or the star clusters of wild asters tangled in September grass,
but, mother, my heart aches to know where it all goes at last.
Does it all go down into the basement with you
and get stored in one of six steamer trunks
like the alabaster gravegoods of a regal woman
for a better afterlife than this one to come?
Mother, am I stuck like a star to the flypaper
of the human condition, or is my genome
a starmap of fireflies trying to see where I’m going
by the light you gave me to go by? Why
do I want to cry like a telescope when I see
what a beautiful constellation we made back then,
you, the habitable planet, and we, your shepherd moons,
and the myths of origin we all shared with you
around the same woodstove on cold nights
when you burned the couch and the kitchen chairs
to keep us warm in your presence like books and bread,
and then time, like a bluejay, gouges the eyes
of the sunflowers out, seed by seed, the teeth
of prophetic skulls, as if we were born
to see the light a moment, flower and be happy
and then go blind before the forbidden vision
shows us how the darkness shines beyond us
like a star in an eyeless state of radiant grace.
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