Unlost When I'M Writing - Poem by Patrick White
Unlost when I'm writing, the going's enough
and any path will do for the shining. Everywhere
space for the mind to move of its own accord,
dead bodies in the tide, waterbirds returning to the lake.
The pictures crowd together in the flames
and a flower blooms in the fire the fire cannot burn
and myriad themes are mingled in the same fragrance.
How else say it? I'm an alloy of stars, a weld
of metaphors that healed stronger than the original wound.
I don't wholly understand this, but I'm changing
bodies on the fly, dying even as I grow,
and the more radiant I become the less visible I am.
The mindstream in its flowing is a flying carpet
woven of eddies and currents, of thought, of feeling
the heaving, fall, and rush of many waters
animated by the going, inspired by the approach,
and some bring an easel, a loom, a telescope
and when the moon is shining, there are feathers
scattered on ten thousand lakes at once
as the night writes starmaps on the eye of the seeker
all but the most middling minds follow like a dancer.
I live between the coming and going like a gate,
like the breath in my throat, the systole and diastole,
the ebb and neap of my heart, between the open sky
and the canning jar of a telescope full of fireflies
like a prism in a spider mount bending light through my eye
like a goldfish in water. The full moon, a coin
lost in the river that cannot be retrieved from the river
unless you grasp it without using your hands.
The way a bird on the wind enlarges a space within
and you can hold it a moment like the sky it disappears into.
Comes a swallow at dusk and a nation at noon
and you feel the easy parity of the two as if
they were both of the one intangible fleeting substance,
a birth-sac of dew about to let its water break
and bring forth the world as the youngest child of all.
An abacus of tears, worlds within worlds,
oxymoronic unions dispersing like somnambulant bells
into more inclusive realms of understanding
where every grain of sand is the cornerstone
of the cosmos elaborated out of it as if
neither small nor large, partial nor whole
one word is a myth of origin, and two,
the whole of its long history without end.
Transformative stillness, kinetic mutability,
I refine the ore of an old wisdom
in the crucible of my heart and pour it out like stars
into the available vacancies of space and time
waiting like a waterclock of begging bowls
for their emptiness to shape the tools they'll use
to plough the moon with a sail and a rudder into fish.
How life gets around is the way I'm moved to think
in fireflies and maple keys, nebular intuitions
of the Pleiades rooting like rain in clouds
and clouds of unknowing where there's nothing
to take on faith but the small voice on the hidden hill
calling out to you like an empty lifeboat
drifting through the autumn fog an eerie morning.
I lay my madness bare and offer you a scalpel
like the bud of a narcissus, and say cut here, cut there,
slash at me like a corpse in a surgical theater,
remove my skull cap like the lid of a cookie jar,
break it open like a fortune-cookie or a surrealistic lullaby,
a lottery you couldn't lose, or American pie,
and don't say anything teleological to me
about what you find, if there's anything to find at all.
And then add me to the sum of educational body parts
on a river barge that's going to scrape them off the plate
far out at sea in a feeding frenzy of marine life.
Star meat, my flesh, I'm adorned by the mud of the earth,
and my mind, who could find that, when
there's so many more places to look than to hide?
Lightyears back I blundered into the open
like a tree on a hill in a field, running from something
ahead of me, when I discovered in a flash
of Druidic tragedy just how vulnerable words were
to the emotions I invested in them like ashes in urns.
Great dragons of passion that imploded on themselves
like caldera and women and meteors on the moon,
kissing stones subsumed in their own wombs
like nanodiamonds of insight into the impact.
And I might seem a lot gladder than I used to be
but there's still too much to forget to be happy.
And I'm not truly certain I have the right to flaunt
the strange gifts that have given me the most joy
when the night comes on like the pheromone of a firefly
and I hear the unmighty groaning in their rooms to endure.
No trick to this. No elixir, no potion, no Latinate abstraction,
no apprentice, master, or skill, I could be making
straw hats among the enlightened conifers of Japan
on a mountainside where the old stones break into laughter
and the samurai class of the grass wants me to teach it
how to fight without regard to winning or losing
no matter how many times I'm killed unceremoniously
like the Buddha in the way of some fool's redemption.
And if the king comes to your house, don't
put out a serving, put out a feast, and move on
empty-handed as a man who's given it all away
just to spite the keepers at the gate searching your exit.
You can buff a Druid into a gleeman like cut cocaine
and then you can step on it again like a court jester
and if you really want to feel sacrilegiously holy
you can burn him like a martyr at the stake of a cause
that accuses him of going to extremes to avoid the law
and then invite him to a reading to scatter his ashes on the wind.
And then beatify his spirit like a white stag you hit with an arrow
fletched by sparrows with the charisma of crows.
And that's an end of what was so mysterious about him.
That's an end of his ambiguous glaises, alphabetic trees
and golden sickles castrating fertility gods so there
was dew on the grass in the morning when the moon
gave birth to a swan in heat before the wheat
could turn from green to gold, and the Fertile Crescent
was fecund with dismemberment and bleeding mistletoe.
Death of a poet. What a small shadow among the gloom.
The eclipse of a lunar pearl in a coalpit.
And the greatness of the perennial mystery
that seeped into his blood like the effluvium
of the dark mother's afterbirth, merely the cosmic hearsay
of what he hoped it would be, up close and intimately.
And his star, now, a cold furnace, and all the warmth
of his violated human nature, a curious atrocity
of the times that are these times just as readily.
I salute the madman addled by creative chaos
like a spear of light in a storm, like a spiritual warrior
who fell upon his own heart like a hand grenade
to save some ingrate his delinquent day of reckoning,
to temper the karma by rounding out the crucials
with compassion and liberated tolerance
as swiftly as his savage indignation killed
the nude empress of pornographic frogs with a kiss
back into her old life in the nunnery of a neurotic narcissus.
And he looked for the moon in a window of a room
in a brothel of experienced muses who didn't
beat around the bush when it came time to ovulate.
St. Francis dances in the dust at the crossroads with the Sufis,
talking to the birds like David, and consulting the wolves.
Rasputin gorges on the flesh of the rainbow light body
glowing in a mystical aura of sex and death
like the dark rapture that embraces him
in the circular bow of the angel of infernal revelations.
And his accusers whip his eyes
like bi-valved goose barnacles
flagellating their feather dusters in the corals.
But there are some things that move inevitably like glaciers.
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