Trying To Express - Poem by Patrick White
Trying to express a more immediate intimacy
with the life of the mind
without attributing a form to madness
might just be another way
of looking for comic relief
from the actual facts
of the tragic folly that confronts us
like a world that won't tolerate any mask
you want to put on it for long
to lie about the atrocity of your irrelevance
and pretend you don't know
what you're looking at.
I dream I suffer the same
corpuscular purpose as a paramecium.
I wake up from these desert mirages
and it's true.
OK it's true.
Because nothing in life is an endgame.
And despite the full stop like an empty cup
at the end of a thought
with the lifespan of a punctuation mark
my cup runneth over like the new moon
and everything is drunk on the lunacy of its light.
It's not the content of life that matters
as much as the way space bends
to accommodate it.
It's not the wine
it's the emptiness of the cup
that shapes the forms of our knowing
so that they can be grasped
by our eyes and hands
as separate things in the world.
Mind is a poet a potter a painter a parent a prophet
that will not be bound by its own works
or the laws of the defenceless who expound them.
Look out into space
and the furthest you will ever see
is a face in the mirror that's older than matter.
Space is a vehicle of transformation
that doesn't go anywhere
because anywhere it goes
its wheels are centered
in the still points of themselves
as we are to our navels.
And all lifelines
straight or otherwise
are emanations of its radiance.
Order and logic and reason
are the dry wishbones of the fearful
looking for predictability in a world
that can't be contained
by a unified field theory
or an elaborated straitjacket
on the fashion ramps of science.
Physics says one size fits all
but by the time the spiders
are finished weaving it
the sleeves are always too short
to keep up with a universe
that's growing at the speed of light
and I'd rather walk naked
in the skin of my own clarity
than be clothed
in someone else's hand-me-downs.
I'm not out hunting birds and butterflies
with a dreamcatcher.
I'm not looking for peace and healing
by abstaining from myself
like a promise I broke to my ancestors.
Everyone was born a lifeboat
in an abysmal sea of awareness
or they wouldn't be here to know it.
So who needs to be saved?
Or is there some kind of holy war going on
between the lifeboats and the waves?
And where does Jerusalem go
to free itself of infidels
when it goes on crusade?
All waves are waterbells
that never stop tolling
and the mindstream
they're raised upon
is in everyone
the sum of what's holy about life.
Learn to transcend your certainties
if you want to get over your doubts.
Don't hoard the effects of your efforts
in the name of a good cause
that's so blinded by its own light
that it can't see
that there's as much randomness in the wonder
as there is in the horror.
That what's most terrifying about life
is that it's free
of anything you can say or feel or think about it.
That every part in every moment
is not the sum
but the consummation of the whole
that roots and flowers in everyone
as if it were a secret
that bloomed for them alone.
To know the names of things
like the names of stars and flowers
is to look at them from the outside.
Who called you Eve?
Who called you Adam?
If you know your name
you're already in exile.
But it was not us
who were driven out of the garden.
Knowledge drives the garden out of us.
It turns our eyes around
so we can't see Eden from the inside
where our beginnings are always now
and we are no more dispossessed
of our innocence
than the passion expressed by a flower
in a loveletter to the light
can be disenchanted
of the insight that inspired it.
What's truly tragic about life when it seems so
is not that it's evil
but that it's innocent
and its innocence is older than compassion.
The moon sheds its phases.
The flower its petals.
They're always coming and going
from the same abyss they're heading into.
The emptiness engenders this abundance
out of its own potential for growth
and even death is not culpable.
This is space.
That is space.
But the two
can no more be separated
than a wave can be from water.
You don't need a unified field theory
to understand unity.
You don't need to hold a mirror up
to your face
to see your own reflection
when you can see yourself in everything.
What does space look like to space?
Mind to mind?
Light to light?
The dreamer to the dream?
What could God possibly say to herself
that she didn't already know?
There's nothing hidden.
There's nothing secret.
There's nothing that escapes detection.
There's no simulacrum for the void
that elaborates everyone's likeness.
There's no dead metaphor in the word
waiting to be resurrected.
The absolutes may be in denial
about the way things seem
but even when their eyes
burn through glass like stars
lost in their own immensities
they can't impress the darkness
with a theory of cosmic shadows.
They don't need to look
any further into space
than the ends of their noses
to see the constellations
across the universe
like the shadows of the stars
that aren't there anymore
trying to throw a light on black matter
by noting its absence.
Gravitational eyes devoid of light.
Black holes without keys
in the doors of perception.
Dry wishing wells on the moon
that have never plumbed the depths
of their bottomless longing
to hear something irrevocably truer
than the echoes of their own voices
coming back to them
like crows and doves to an ark.
By the time you know it
any event is over.
By the time you see the dawn
the sun has already set.
In the seed of every insight
you can read your own gravestone.
You can see there's as much death in it
as there is life.
You can feel the spring coming on
as if you were already buried
under the savage tiger-lilies.
And you can ask
until you're as blue in the face as a hyacinth
what it all meant
after you're dead
out in the incredible open
that's closed to the living
just past the end of their fingertips.
Or if it ever meant anything at all.
You can see and be it this way.
You can go on a long journey
to a prison or a shrine or a hospital
and return home
with no more insight
than you had when you left.
And still wonder if it was all worth it.
Because no experience of life
is truer than another
reality is not separated
from our awareness of it
nor subject to reform.
There is no norm
that isn't a prevailing illusion by consensus.
But the desert isn't looking for water
and only the one-eyed fools
mistake their eye-patchs
for an eclipse of the moon
and their own mirages
for a new way of thinking
when it's thinking's best virtue not to have one.
People and things are ok as they are
but they don't realize it.
They keep trying to live up
to their own reflections.
They keep trying to sweep
the stars and the deserts
off their front stairs
looking for a stairway to heaven
where the dust of the world
can't find a place to rest.
But time is a pulse of the heart
not the heavy pendulum
of a grandfather clock
and as Pablo Neruda once wisely said
the poetry is under your fingernails
and I would less wisely add
as is heaven.
No one's on the wrong path
once they open both their eyes
to what's underfoot
whether you're walking
on water stars or fireflies
or riding dolphins.
Whether your road
is a shoelace or smoke
or the lifeline of an umbilical cord
measured in wavelengths and lightyears
or your journey's still
an astronaut in the womb.
Mirrors holding mirrors up
to judgement for their spots.
Narcissus doesn't like what he's looking at.
The roads don't suddenly
turn back on themselves
because they lack floors
and a place of their own.
Heaven uses the same return address as hell.
But when death comes knocking in Aleppo
and you're out walking your own mile
in your own shoes
to nowhere in particular
free of arrivals and departures
no one's ever home
and every threshold you cross
is not hindered by an exit or an entrance.
And some sit still by the window
growing younger by the moment
the longer they look into the distance.
Comments about Trying To Express by Patrick White
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