You'Re Not Mad Enough - Poem by Patrick White
You’re not mad enough to understand my poetry.
Suffering hasn’t twisted you into strange shapes
like a hangman’s apprentice
practising knots with your spine
or driven your innocence out into the desert
like a scape-goat for the sins of others
until you had mastered their evil
and become a great devil
condemned to do good
as if it were the most exquisite torment
of the damned.
You’ve never stood like an exile
at a sleepless window
and listened to the night rain
speaking in a foreign language.
Your electrons have never
been bumped out of their orbitals
like the photonic refugees
of a radioactive element
with half an afterlife
that can see in the dark
and last for millions of years.
What tongue-tied tuning fork
of a pygmy atom
like the emperor of Austria to Mozart
seeing a galaxy
or hearing a symphony
indicts a cosmic conception
beyond the diminutive perception
and bent event horizons
of a black dwarf
for too many stars
too many notes?
You can’t taste the new wine
until it’s been poured
into the same old dirty cup of a mind
you’ve been drinking from
like the bloodless goblet of the moon for years.
don’t they both go on forever
like poems you can’t measure for a straitjacket?
You want to make haikus out of hurricanes.
You want to time the wind
when it blows your house down.
You’ve sat down among your peers
at a designer seance
and studied literature
as if you were communing with ghosts
who had the decency not to show up in the flesh.
And you may have climbed
to the top of the world mountain like a postcard
but you’ve never come down from it
like an avalanche of rocks
you rolled away from your tomb
like the vernal equinox
as if Stonehenge were built by Sisyphus.
And what’s it to me
if your attention span
is a flea on a hot-plate
and you’re in the habit
of drinking spit
from everyone else’s mouth but your own
or jealousy makes you celibate
everytime you catch me
French-kissing the muse at her wellspring?
You’re a goldfish in a shark bowl
with a spineless guitar-pick for a fin
afraid of the dangers
of being swept out into the deep night sea
by the rogue karma
of getting caught up
in your own undertow.
You’re more at home
among dead starfish and washed-up things
in the slums of shallow tidal pools
than the palatial spaces
of more gifted myths of origin.
Literati in the corpus delecti
of the great dead
by the grammar of maggots
it must be scary for you
to try to imagine
anything you can’t prove
like the singularity
at the bottom of a blackhole
or the creative potential of dark matter.
You may be armies of lice
in the Golden Fleece
living like stars with tenure
in faculties of sunlight
but who among you
knows how to sow
the teeth of the dragon?
If I keep faith with my calling
by following it like a salmon
all the way to the sea like a river
and back to the mountains to die
why should I listen
to the fingerlings on a fish farm
about flowing the wrong way
without checking the depth of the water
to see if I’m in too deep?
I can’t get enough of the stars
but you look at them like a blackhole
and think they’re overdoing their shining.
I’ve never regretted trusting or loving someone
in some interglacial warming period
when the trees come back.
And I’ve never killed a thing I ever loved.
I swallow the darkness of separation
knowing it’s the poisoned mushroom
of the emperor-clown’s last act.
I taste the fact on the fork and concede.
I take more than my own death
out into the desert
and I mourn without accusation
the empty cup of the moon
at the dry lips of its dying mirages.
It’s just the way the rose haemorrhages
when it gets cold.
It’s just the way a paper boat
is kept afloat by its own themes
all the way down a river
that doesn’t care where it’s going
because its only destination is anywhere.
And what decent fire lies to its flames?
And I’d rather be loved than right
most of the time anyway
so I’ll take the blame upon me
and you can sleep tight as a lifeboat on the Titanic
and I’ll just drift south with the icebergs
hoping that at the first sign of your solitude
you don’t panic
at the way things are going down
and way way too overboard.
You put pen to paper
like a pharaoh builds a pyramid
only to wind up
like a mummy in a museum under glass.
But the first thing I write off is me.
I dispossess myself of thoughts and feelings
like a serpent ditches its skin
tired of being the fall-guy for sin
or the ocean gets its waves off its back
as if they didn’t belong to anyone’s mind
when the wind reads what’s written in sand
like a lifeline on the palm of my hand
that bends round the heel of my thumb
like an ongoing question of when.
You have to become no one
if you want to understand
the mindlessness of being a human
and the only way to express it
is to say it without a mouth
hear it without listening
and see it without eyes.
Anyone can write a decent poem
but how many can walk on the dark side
and let the poetry write them
without squealing for death
to make their last breath
the whole orchard
in the blossom of a haiku
that might read like a fortune-cookie
but breaks just like an egg
that got the word out
like a bird afraid of the sky
there’s no more room at the inn
for the stars to follow the magi like a hearse
wreathed in laurels and flowers
like the dead blessing
round the bend of a live curse.
You can’t live like a maggot
and write like an eagle.
And though it’s not a grace
that’s easily acquired
by verse lamplighting at night in the woods
to attract the muse like a doe
to your moth-bound lucidities
baying at the moon
you hope will mistake you for a wolf
even the darkness has enough taste
not to try to pour the ocean into a teacup
that hasn’t been washed out first
like someone with a filthy mouth.
All your dainty revisions
were the personal decisions
of someone addicted to plastic surgery
like the bride of Frankenstein to Botox
trying to deconstruct her face.
I had no choice.
How can you revise space?
Or take anything away from zero?
You try to keep order in your life and work
as if you were building Rome again
from the ashes up like Nero.
And I don’t know why it’s so
but insight after insight
flashing through me like sun swords
through the back of a lunar bull
though it’s been painful
has sustained my life somehow
like the brainchild of a compatible chaos.
And I may have been treated madly by poetry
and speak in tongues
like a lunatic in the rain in Babylon
long after its bricks were broken
and the last eclipse had spoken
its last word
about free choice
being gerry-mandered out of the absurd
but you’re as well-versed
as the soft lip
of a Georgian sheep dip
that’s just found its voice.
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