Patrick White

Rookie (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)

Whether I Languish Here - Poem by Patrick White

Whether I languish here in the cold tin rain, everything
black, green, and grey, and the violet crocus
adjusting its bruised crown to the fragile light,
and the willow already an accomplished dancer,
and the sad brooms of the pine
that sweep the stairs of the wind
heavier than ever in their helpless plight, or
tired of the slow exorcism of old Septembers
that still shine blue and gold
in the back of the family bible where people
come and go like migrant doors, I accept myself
like a heresy of rogue stars
and look for a deeper night within
for the honey and wine of the radiant wonder
that walks like a woman in the guise
of a silver herb through the valley of the wound
that life can be when the geese return from the dead,
I am the lament of a pointless mystery,
an intimate namelessness, an unknown agony
that consumes me like an exile, a severance
and a longing of which I am not worthy
even now among the leaves and birds, all
these manic, animated nations of the spring.
Is it myself I mourn,
some diamond fiction of the mind
that refuses to thaw in a season of flowing,
or have I acknowledged, without knowing,
there never was anyone real to regret,
no one to let down, no one to raise up
and nothing ever missing, no lack
of what I needed to be to live, no
second person to assess the outcome,
and all the coming and the going,
the exits and entrances, transits and transformations,
all the urgencies and emergency graves
were the immaterial props
of a dream, of a life, that was never mine
and isn’t me. Even when I hold
the invisible ink of the wind
like a page of the sky up to the light,
I cannot read my name, my death or birth
perched like a bird
in the concealing foliage of revelation. It seems
in the mystic ore of the oyster
I am not a pearl or a planet
or even a grain of sand
to found a universe upon,
not even the slightest of these agitations
robed in the nacreous dawn of a new beginning.
How many years, how many days and ways
have I groaned like an old wheel
in this river of grief
trying to grind a harvest into bread,
sorting the weeds from the wheat
to allay the chronic torrent
of this bridal hunger on my death-bed?
What faceless love is this
that wakes me with a kiss again and again
in every moment, the lips of the rain,
to squander myself on nothing
in the shrines and asylums of my eloquent pain,
the aging conviction
of a fetal contradiction
trying to celebrate the unattainable
in the resurgent fountains and fictions
of the unexplainable? And what a fool is here
to deride the gestures of his own devotion,
laying his life on the altars of the years
to make a gift of a gift
that isn’t his to give, stealing the wave
to pay tribute to the ocean, easing the flame
from the purse of the fire
to spend on the blaze? What could possibly be ours to give
when the only acceptable sacrifice
in the elusive eyes of magnanimous life
is to live?

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Poem Submitted: Friday, January 27, 2012

Poem Edited: Friday, January 27, 2012

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