They'Re Hanging Flowerpots From The Lamp Posts Again - Poem by Patrick White
They're hanging flowerpots from the lamp posts again
like a change of stars every spring, and between
the young trees that held their allotted postage stamp of ground
on both sides of the street, through a long winter,
they're turning up the soil in the whiskey barrels
as if they were digging up the corpse of a drunk
to see if he died sober or not or just accidentally fell in.
And I remember a man, used to live up there,
the second story window on the right, at the top
of a flight of sway-back stairs from carrying
two hundred years of the weight of the world
like the worn chakras and vertebrae
of a beast of burden that never woke
the serpent fire at the base of its spine
in time to free itself, but as the Arabs say
the donkey at the end
is in the lead when the line or the spine
which ever comes first, turns round.
May it be so for him who lived in a single room
for thirty years, cutting out pictures from magazines
and filing them according to their themes.
A testy, paranoid man, the black sheep of his family
who kept breaking his Faberge heart
on street girls who needed a place to stay for the night,
who could read his kind of sheet music
like an open violin case on a corner,
busking for the short end of the stick.
But it was love to him, and there were always
real tears at the end when he went back to his magazines
each time more bitter than before, to clip
the eyes out of the picture-music of his dreams
like dead flowers out of his bower of bliss in the spring.
He was a nocturnal man, half raccoon, he came out at night
to scavenge the streets as an unlicensed living off the grid.
Drugs, wallets, money, cigarettes, keys, condoms,
fancy jewelled watches with gold expansion bracelets
that had slipped from some drunk real estate agent's wrist.
And then he was told he was going to die,
fifty-five, kidney cancer, six months at the most,
and I was awed by how he accepted his death
with the silence and dignity of an everyday affair
people have been doing unnaturally for millions of years.
And he gave his clippings and collages
and the most precious treasures of his lost and found
away like pressed flowers to people all over town
and when I asked him, sitting on the sidewalk
on the front step of his place, what he was going to do
in these last six months of his life, he said
I want to eat in every restaurant in town before I'm dead.
And he almost did, except for Mexican,
before I last saw him as I imagined he looked
under a closed coffin lid at a shabby wake
that pointed out which one he was
in his high school year book
with all the eyes cut out.
And you could live here for a hundred and fifty years
among the tribal locals of the highlands of Lanark
like an old testament prophet on a hobby farm
and still be considered too weird to sit at their table
without realizing you're still not one of them,
though you're tolerated like another fieldstone
in the wall with the steel gate that separates
one cemetery from another, not according
to how you died, or what you lived for,
but who you lived with on Foley Mountain
or in the back woods up around Fernleigh and Ardoch
where the people look up at the stars and wait like rocks
for the last two and a half centuries.
He wasn't one of them, hardly anyone here is
where only the black flies are drawn to the smell
of an outsider until two days of intense heat
kills them off at the end of May, and you're free to stay
as long as you like in the tiny one room
apartment of your mind, trying to make
strays and runaways stay awhile, linger a bit
on the last step of the stairwell
they're climbing down from heaven on
as if life were the bannister of a free ride to the bottom
and that was the best a furtive creature like he was
could expect to snatch from life for him and his cat
and exaggerate into an expanding universe
from a single random atom of love
before it all imploded in on him under its own mass
like a black dwarf with nothing left to look forward to
but a black hole they lower you into like a dead lifeboat
into the oceanic awareness of the starless sea before you
with an admiral's hat made of old magazines
that took the journeys you should have taken years ago
like the paper boats of Li Po down the Yangtze River.
Wary of bliss, because you've made your happiness
a nest in the depths of your desperate solitude
too important not to bobble the ball or the cosmic egg
like a translucent bubble smeared in sticky rainbows
out of fear of its loss, you can turn into the very thorn
you've feared most of your life is going
to burst your bubble into tears
that you made yourself in a hall of mirrors
look so foolish chasing it like the eyes
of beauty in the beholder with a butterfly net,
and when that doesn't work, just as often as not,
stairwells of flypaper trying to catch the falling stars,
and put them in your pocket, and never let them fade away.
And he wasn't a good earner with lots of candle power
so he had to traffic his experience for their lost innocence
like a blind lighthouse in love with fireflies
that could see him better than he
could ever see them or himself.
Love loses the mystery of the inconceivably real
once it becomes a deal in life, a tit for tat.
Most young women know that by the time
they're fifteen these days, and especially the runaways
couch surfing in the archives of ardent stamp collectors.
But it strikes me as too facile for those
who are luckier in life and love to judge him
from a few snippets of gossip on the local mill wheel
grinding the gist of the issue down to something digestible,
and barely a mention in the paper worth cutting out.
And, who knows, maybe if he had lived as he had died,
offered a last meal, he should have tried
everything on the menu that life had to offer him,
stood astride himself like a colossus of a lighthouse
in the face of the storm on that dangerous coast
he never got to see, instead of sitting in his room
waiting for some mermaid who wasn't singing to him
call him to the rocks as if she were coming to his rescue
like a black and white issue of a pin-up movie queen
in an old back issue of Life magazine.
And there's plenty of people with more rocks around here
than they know what to do with to cast the first stone,
like the kissing stone of the Kaaba in the filthy hands
of the local Taliban at a romantic man and woman
trying to find some love in life in Afghanistan
just the same as they are in Ompah tonight.
But the only rock this delinquent would throw
through his window if I were ever going to
would be the full moon at the ghost of the scarecrow
breaking bitter bread with himself
at his own harvest table, to get up out of his grave
like a lunatic with a happier appetite for life and love
and like the longing of the crow and the wolf on the moonlit hill
call out for more than he ever knew how or what to ask for,
except in the way he died, nobly, without a word of reproach,
as if a long-standing empty prophecy
had been at last wholly fulfilled by the menu
of almost every restaurant in Perth,
where a blue moon in late October
served second helpings of a last meal
to a condemned man of no little worth to those of us
who admired the equanimity and grace of the way
he pushed his chair away when he'd had enough
and left the table like a pair of scissors
on the cutting edge of life for good.
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