A Grey Music Hovers Over The Town Poem by Patrick White
A grey music hovers over the town.
No people on the streets. Background drone
of furnaces working overtime against the cold.
Space and time on the nightshift and fossils
of bootprints like prehistoric ferns
and the beautiful arcs of tire tracks
frozen into shales of brown Pre-Cambrian snow.
Unlike the stars, there's no twinkle in the eyes
of the streetlights who just look down and stare.
There's a desolate window across the street,
facing south directly across from my apartment
I've been peering into night after night
like the eye-socket of a blue-black anthracite skull,
waiting to see some ghost or star or the first small flame
of a pilot light come on in the dragon's lair
as if it could breathe fire out of its eyes
and tonight the last full moon of the old year
slowly appears like seeing out of the darkness
or the return of an apparitional apple blossom to a dead branch.
The air's got an edge that plays like a switchblade
with the most exposed parts of me,
and the silence brazes my face in glacial acetylene
as my skin goes into shock electrocuted by the cold.
My breath one exorcism after another
I had no idea I had been possessed by so many.
I wander in a fog of exiles and ghosts
like a mystic cloud of unknowing, the rag
of an impoverished atmosphere that aspires
to break into stars shuddering with insight.
Orion and the dog star of Osiris, and Jupiter,
a little further down the road from the moon
than last night. Further into the frozen river groves
a strange, brittle quiet waits for something to happen to it.
I am too far from home to make it back in time.
I have made and unmade my own way through life
like this river whether my end is in my beginning or not
or if there's a sea of shadows on the moon
I'm trying to make my way to by flowing upward
like the bridges of the trees that burned in the fall behind me
after I'd crossed over to the other side of everywhere.
Myriad stars and the unoccupied emptiness
that's forms the quixotic inconceivability
of my shapeshifting mind takes them in like fireflies
through the open window of a lantern that embodies the light
the way a candle wraps a spinal cord in flesh like beeswax
then adds a touch of fire to enliven the flame of life within.
My heart gathers them together like tribes
around their council fires and recites from memory
such resplendent myths of origin they shine
like constellations on a bitterly cold night
to keep themselves warm on the inside
by banking the flames with last year's lack luster starmaps.
Cosmologies come and go like the leaves,
turn brown and go flakey thinking of themselves
as retroactive prophecies in the canopic jars
of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran
led out of the darkness by a messianic goatherd
thinking of kindling his morning fires with them
as he would later burn an autumn of Gnostic Gospels
like portable cave paintings surrounded by hearthstones.
Was the smoke any holier than that of a distant farmhouse?
Was there a fragrance of burning loveletters in the air?
Did fiery doves descend like cherubim and ice-age comets
cast out like flawed jewels from their black halo
beyond Neptune or the aura of the dark Oort cloud
catching the sun out in the open like a sudden hail storm
in Sodom and Gomorrah? Pillars of Dead Sea salt,
those who looked back, weak-kneed birches
buckled by snow. Footprints in the volcanic ash
of the first man to set foot on the virgin moon
like the hymen of this trail that breaks behind me
like poetry putting its foot through a window of ice
on this shadow-stained mirror of immaculate misconception
breeding a second nature to replace the first through repetition.
My mind wanders off into transformations
that always take me by surprise and I let it
follow the deer paths down to the river
to drink from the galactic reflections of migrating stars
like elixirs of hunting magic that drive the wolves crazy.
Every step I take, the creature I am morphs
into the one I'm becoming by mere association.
I'm a bestiary of arcane symbols and totems
I've stacked up like stones and skulls
into a dolmen of self I'll leave as a sign
of residential abandonment to the next traveller
to pass this way and wonder who I was
and much more engagingly who I wasn't.
I wasn't a man who wouldn't take a risk
at some peril to his eyes to get a better view of the stars.
I didn't stand at a window for the whole of my life
to wish it away until I was numb with longing
on one grimy star descending into a night sea
of tarpaper rooftops writing their memoirs in snow.
I survived by not taking shelter from the storm.
I propped my elbows like the legs of a telescope
on the windowsills and event horizons of the world
and got out of my house of the zodiac
like a wandering planet through a lens.
I never took direction from my aftermath.
I was as fierce and lucid and clear as a star
and all paths led away from me enlightened
from the beginning like a future memory of the past.
Love was a kind of nebular confusion that didn't last
though out of it grew the wild-eyed irises of the Pleiades
and the blue fires that bloom along these banks in the summer
when I remember some transitory detail
about the spirit of a lost lover that still haunts me
like a willow that used to rinse her hair
of stars and dragonflies in a river that passed her by.
If truth was the salt of the earth, beauty
was a dangerous sugar I was always bee enough
not to resist like a golden coke junkie dealing in flowers.
Though I didn't indulge in happy endings,
I found it improbably possible to remain grateful
for more than I could comprehend of the gifts
I was given to lay like poppies and wheat
I'd gathered from the starfields by the heartful
on the evanescent stairs of the unattainable
as I hid like a secret I couldn't tell to anyone else
to see who came out when no one was looking to receive them.
Wisdom when it managed to achieve me
always emanated a bouquet of seasoned ignorance
with a twist of crazy that often made me want
to smash it on a dancing floor at a Greek wedding
and dance in glee at my delinquency until my feet bled
with the blood of the grapes they tread the wine from.
Some people's heels are winged in doves' feathers.
Mine were spurred on by the wings and talons of hawks
plunging across the full moon like nocturnal arrowheads.
And when the time came to empty the lifeboat of my likeness
like the frozen wombs of the gaping milk weed pods
gaping as if they'd just given birth to a million ghosts
that are going to take root in the hills that live after them,
I could honestly say in words that politely ignored me
like a pyramid doesn't make an impression on a sand dune,
even in a sea of radical pearl makers and resurgent stars,
mirages of water in the waterclock of a mindstream
in flood both sides of an imagination silting the light with starmud,
I knew the mermaids. And I knew the rocks.
I was a complete sailor. I dropped anchor
like a shipwreck in the moonset of my blood.
Patrick White's Other Poems
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