Wilder Times Than We Thought They Were In The Moment - Poem by Patrick White
Wilder times than we thought they were in the moment,
savage intensities cultivated in the name of art,
the children of the bourgeois afraid of violating
the mystique of genius as if there were a lumpen proletariat taboo
like a magic circle drawn around it, cordons of spinal cords
at a premier of the polymorphous perverse
melting down like emotional nuclear reactors
irradiating Pleiadic insights of white phosphorus
like jelly fish trying to plug into the scene.
First magnitude stars that weren’t quite sure
whose legend they were shining in
as long as there were something Icarian about it
and infallibly tragic, as if to be destroyed by your gift
were certain proof you were a snakecharmer
with a talent dark enough to curse your own blessing
in the sacro-sanct way sacrificial heroism
is a judas-goat for the gods to coax them out of hiding.
What addictions, what madness didn’t we tolerate?
No weirdness, no twisted perversity of fate
unacceptable in order to keep up the morale among ourselves
that our own derangements were liveable humans.
Stoic sobriety with a touch of the infernally noble
as long as there were enough star power
to be derived from it extemporally to fool yourself
you’d been to hell, you’d conversed with the gibbering ghosts
in the underworld, and now you were ascending from Hades,
empty-handed, except for an abalone inlaid guitar,
a voice, a repertoire of songs you used to sing
from coast to coast like a ghost at your own seance,
or if you were a poet, three books under your boa skin belt
like wampum, a wounded heart channeling Horatian odes
to staunch the bloodflow like a hemorrhage of fire.
We lived as if we were always spitting into the face
of librarians moved by poetry enough to write about
making raspberry jam in their amazingly savoury kitchens
and that wasn’t very right or nice of us, regardless
of whether they deserved it or not, but it would be
less than frank not to admit how alarming it would be
not to be able to muster a cobra of spit the same way now
to punish the eyes of the snake-oil salesmen
with a taste of their own medicine for fouling
the housewells of the muses with all that bleach and brine
they scour their poems with as if they were keel-hauling them
on the hull of the moon out of fear of drinking
from the same skull cup as everyone else on the nightshift
deep in the mines of their starmud working with
a candle and canary to bring the occasional jewel to light,
out of fear of getting some life under their fingernails
or contaminating their lips with human elixirs.
At least we killed like tigers, not tapeworms,
though needless to say, because that’s the way the world is,
we did more damage to ourselves trying to stand out
like someone real from the mob of the middling and maudlin
to suffer the black farce of our former radiance
lightyears later in this ventriloquial dawn
where wooden dummies have mastered the art
of throwing their heartwood around like the voices
of decoy waterbirds in front of a hunter’s blind
trying to bring the words of those who can fly
down to their level of poultry and pettiness.
Every quarter asked, every quarter given,
a disastrous expression of compassion,
but when you’re trying to live with largesse
as if you had a soul that was more mammal than reptile
of course you’re going to err on the side of generosity,
your winged horse spurred on by pussywillows and burrs
until you’re thrown off by a star under your saddle,
the dupe of your own unaccountable gesture
as you ride off into the sunset with Don Quixote
feeling like Sancho Panza tilting at the futility
of counter clockwise windmills on lifelight savings time.
Too many swine. Too few pearls unwilling to be trampled
like the grapes of wrath getting indignantly drunk on us.
Don’t offer your tears and sacred oils to someone
with a drinking problem. Though I encourage you
to ignore my advice so you can be what I mean for yourself.
Incandescent ingratitude. As if genius
took its tragic lifemask off, stepped out of its skin,
tore the curtains off the windows like the northern lights
and showed you the blackhole of the ego in the spider web
that spun a myth of origin like a starmap that knew
only a few chords and barred its Fs as an excuse for music
that maintained the world began with an arachnid
but kept that fact hid from the frenzy of friends
around the streetlamp of a public image on the radio.
Ego. That paper dragon that likes to play with matches
creatively, a brush dipped in paint, a nib in blood
that flared up like a bouquet of sulphurous little chapbooks
straining to convince you their personality is black magic
once you get past the alibi of words that smack
of saccharine and formic acid, ants and stinging nettles,
and taste how shallow and unclever a cynical lack
of sensitivity to things ego doesn’t understand is,
to that mess of neurotic avarice that sticks like gum
that’s lost its flavour in the tresses of a flypaper muse
as it lackadaisically strums the guitar like a Ferrari
warming up, to disguise the fact, if you go by the work,
it can’t really play and the wheel hasn’t been invented for it yet.
Dramatic brawls at midnight, out on the street,
at the top of our lungs, embodiments of nemetic karma
defending principles willing to settle the score here and now
if you were crazy, drunk, or daring enough to risk
losing more than you ever had or intended to give
to substantiate your reality with fists that would later bloom
like bruised crocuses and waterlilies lyrically inclined
to deadly nightshade and moody orchids in an eclipse.
But most edged the Texas toe of their cowboy boot
up to an unseen line drawn in the stars like a Tropic of Capricorn,
that said for all your talk of figs and horns, a coward
goes this far and no further for self-preservative reasons
that have been canning him like jam since childhood.
More than one night I lay in the dark sobering up,
proofreading my name in the sooty contrails
of bic lighters on the ceilings of Ottawa city jails,
Orphically exalted to have left my mark
in an underworld anthology that didn’t depend
on a political jury of friends who elected things into print
as if they were pensioning off candidates for the senate
with two free copies, fifteen minutes max
at a mass reading, a minute on the local news
and enough notoriety to incrementally con
a few more false friends they might have been
wrong about you, and accordingly adjust
their parallactic affiliation with your twinkling.
My elders, the ghosts of older owls, the afterlives
of stars that had burnt out romantically on alcohol,
who spoke like legends of themselves in a refugee camp
for broken chandeliers and abused constellations
performing off Broadway like the loveletters of a mailman
who delivered them like the wind in a tree in the autumn,
since imprinted like the cambium of last year’s spring
in the hall of famous tree rings that have stopped growing.
Honoured with urns. But for awhile, precociously,
peers of mine, fish dying of thirst beside a freshwater lake,
artificial respirators crying out for back-up parachutes
because they thought it was poetically cute
to always be the one who was rescued from themselves.
Ego grease. Black farce of a circus on tour
with drugstore carnies, clutching at straws
like the rungs of a trapeze someone was always
falling from like a star you caught and put in your pocket
like a safety net that counted on your friends’ sense of timing
to save you from your own web like the spindle you made of fate.
Metamorphic larvae in the coffins and cocoons,
the lifeboats and chrysales these shepherd moons
moved into as if they were on a grand tour of the zodiac.
Pageants of wrecked talent showing up like queens
of stage and screen, who adorn your table
by letting you sit at it with them below the salt like a foodbank
as they told you lies about the famous fireflies
they used to cavort with like radical root fires.
Memories of the last literary scene I ever wanted to be in,
eyeless images of overcast dreams, the business
of art spinning the lack of imagination into
some tear drop of a bauble for public consumption
that made evaporation look deep by comparison.
Treacherous metaphors. Nasty similes
that thought they were teaching you a moral lesson
through petty betrayals of the trust you placed in them
against your better judgement, only to ignore
with Olympian indifference the kind of dung heap wisdom
that tried to disenchant you from ever trusting your likeness
in another again like the alienable bonds of mutual opportunism.
Old men now, many dead at the hands of their vices,
nine dog paddlers for every synchronized swimmer, prima ballerinas
that could really write and paint, sing and dance once,
crucible steel hammering out the slag of their impurities
like sparks that shone for a moment like starclusters
that hung in the air and then disappeared
into the great reservoir of one-eyed mirrors.
I can remember when that bag lady was a rose.
I can recall when his charm partially concealed and compensated
for what is so obviously feeble about him now
as he waxes mellifluously nostalgic, trying to squeeze
a drop of honey out of his stinger like the good old days
when he used to hang himself from the green boughs
and dead branches of poetry like a pinata of killer bees
coming on like a kite or Black Hawk sneakers tangled
like bolas and medicine bags in personably contemporary powerlines
you can still hear humming and hissing
like a red shifting snakepit gone long in the tooth
whenever it rains on the ashes of a smouldering guitar
trying to serenade the moon under her Medusan window.
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