A Paint Rag Of The Masterpiece I Used To Be
A paint rag of the masterpiece I used to be.
Is this humility? Or time to quit? I refuse
to listen to my muse as if she were a whistle
on a graveyard shift. A nightbird or nothing
but the white noise of the cosmic hiss
cooling its afterbirth off? I make a point
when I write, or paint, or make love
of never knowing where my mindstream's
going with me, and everything sings mysteriously
as if it were oracular. I let the world
come upon me by surprise, expecting nothing
beyond the moment or behind me, and it's twice
as spectacular for being unanticipated
than if I were in up over my head
in an ocean of notions of what it was all about.
I'm on an enlightenment path through the gutter.
I'm swept along with things like log jams
of cigarette-butts and dud lottery tickets on the rain
and then things pan out expansively in my flowing
and I'm able to reflect the constellations again like a starmap
of mirroring consciousness, and I'm utterly astounded
by the beauty of a peace deep within that makes me think,
despite the apparent facts, the most prevalent element
in the universe, is an exquisitely subtle intelligence
that gives to everything that exists, and, I suspect,
doesn't, as well, not a God particle, but to each
its own measure of a wavelength from a firefly of insight
to an apocalyptic supernova of mind-blowing revelation
so intense, you glimpse it once, and your eyes evaporate.
What a way to spend your life though. A poet on the road
he took at a fork of his own walking on stars, thorns,
the eyelids of black roses in eclipse, night seas
that forbid the false hopes of lifeboats
and the buoyant despair of the shipwrecks
that lay on the bottom like a black box that had lost
its voice in the depths calling out to the fish for help.
Maybe you have to drown first to be a good lifeguard
with gills you can trust, or return to the womb like I do
from time to time to hear the allure of the mermaids
singing me up onto the rocks of my birth
as if the waters of life had to break like an urn
before the dragon could be born again like a star
out its own ashes. The light out of the dark like Draco.
Hic sunt dracones. The eye out of the shattered lamp
it used to go by like a nightwatchman among the shadows
it cast like soot on the dark glass of windows into the heart
as it made sure the doors were locked on what
was stored inside like the unknown potential
of the collective unconscious in the comatose warehouse of life.
In order to be all inclusively lyrical, I learned a long time ago
to pipe on a hollow silo like the wind or a drunk
on the neck of an empty whiskey bottle beside the canal
in the spring because it was too late to fish for evolution
and satyr I may have been, there was no other syrinx
or turtle-shaped guitar or lyre within immediate reach.
Sooner or later, your Dionysian past is going to catch up
to your Apollonian future, and the measure of a human
won't be the palm of a planar hand laying out the Parthenon
caryatid by caryatid, but a starmud temple of sacred prostitutes
leaping naked through the fires of Isis at a rave
of tattoos in a mosh pit of esoteric constellations
dancing on the dark side of the moon like a cult of fireflies
initiating your imagination into different altars
than those you've been knocking over for lightyears now
like the pillars of false idols that call down the mountaintops
of nemetic avalanches to bury you in for calling their bluff.
I've lost count of the number of times I've been
carried home on my shield like the phase of the moon
I was gored by like an island-hopping mercenary
quixotically tilting at prayer wheels fighting to right
the toppled axis of Neptune with its head stuck in the seabed
like a tent-peg in a desert of stars on campaign
in a holy war with myself I knew I was doomed to lose.
What did Archilocus say? Some Thracian's got my shield.
O, well. That's tough. But comes a time you've had enough.
You just want to sit like moss on the rolling stone
of a prophetic skull and listen to what the crowns
of the elm trees swaying in the wind are whispering
to the deep violet storm clouds mobilizing at the edge of the sky,
embedded like a third eye in a hurricane of razor blades.
These days I give hermetic poetry readings open
to my solitude, after keeping my mouth shut for years,
nacreously knitting my broken skeleton in a bone-box
into the black pearls of sacred syllables dawning under my tongue
like new days of darkness ahead expanding like space
in the heart of a voyageur that's left the solar system
like an explorer that's breaking twigs like blips and beeps
along the way should anyone back on earth be following
what I've seen and been to have gotten as far as I have in life.
My heart is free. My spirit as uncontained as a flame
that paints outside the lines of the mirror I used to look through
like a reflecting telescope on a cold mountaintop
trying to escape the light pollution of cities in the valleys
I once rose from like a coffin of a comet over Sodom and Gomorrah
or the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion
looking straight into the eyes of the sun like the vapour
of a rainbow that went blind looking back like a pillar of salt
at what time can wreak when the light gets turned around
like an ingrown solar flare of a mind that's lost at sea
on a liferaft surrounded by the fins of circling sun dials.
I've privately reprieved all the doves on the death row
of the aviaries of my voice, and released the stars
like chimney sparks from the bad contracts they'd signed
early in their musical careers with the managerial blow hards
that pumped the volume up on the celestial spheres
until you couldn't hear anything but the sound of your eardrums
breaking like chandeliers of hard rain in an ice storm into the scene
with big dreams of shining one day like creosote
in a crematorium of genuinely undiscovered talent stars
that burned the whole house down like a zodiac
over the slums of London in 1666, or Rome
while Nero fiddled his way through 180l literary awards
on tour in Greece lying through their eye teeth like Corinthians.
My childhood a progressive demolition of norms.
No regrets. I was born like a heretic into this madness
of homicidal fictions dismembering Orphic corpses
in nondescript bathtubs after hanging them upside down
to bleed them like roses and acoustic guitars, ear to ear,
their vocal cords cut like downed powerlines
that used to accompany the starlings on their staves.
I have a lot in common with extraordinarily ordinary people.
Art for art's sake is akin to masturbation and about
as productive, so I don't try to prove when I write
I'm so unique you have to ask someone else for an explanation.
No people. No painting or poetry. No communication.
People come first. Art is for people, or it's just the wind
moving the sand around in an hourglass to no effect
like moments of life lived on the seabeds of the moon,
cul de sacs, dead ends with no time to reflect
on the possibility of pearls rolling like dew off their tongues.
Everyman is No one, the same who lifted the veils of Isis
and revealed himself to the Cyclops. Poetry's
the long, hard discipline of learning to forget your name
going beyond the unpublishable lovers of fame
with one hand down the muse's pants like an amanuensis.
You've got to sit at the side of your deathbed at every moment
in order to be fully alive and free of yourself
so you can sing for the dream figures on the corner
of Gore and the universe as if they were listening
to their own voice in the crowded solitude of their passing.
There's mercy in this, a way of life, a form of worship,
celebration, devotion, sacred circus clowns, ghost dancers
elated by the crazy wisdom of praying off the reservation
like poetry readings in the basement catacombs of busy bars.
Reality wholly conformable to the surrealistic facts
of an active imagination looking at the way things are
as they pass from one transformation to the next
like the waterclock of a mindstream pouring itself out
into the empty forms of dry housewells waiting
for water levels to rise on the moon like a temple of sandbags.
I write like a river overflowing its banks like the Milky Way
or the soft shoulders of the Road of Ghosts to flood the earth
with the alluvial silt of burnt out stars that renew their light
by breaking bread with Spica in the hand of Virgo
like the dark abundance of the autumn equinox
pouring its bright vacancy like a harvest moon
into the inexhaustible silo of an hourglass
the wind plays its picture music on
like the urns of starlings born like a voice box
caught like a song in the throats of exorcised chimney pots.
True to my circuitous blossoming I refuse
to give up the ghost of my evanescence
like the smoke of a draconian fire roaring down below
to keep this house of life warm by laying down
on the pyres of my cracked heartwood like a fossil of rain
singing to the beatific stars like a heretic
in an auto de fe of blue jays and sunflowers
blooming in the creative wake of my self immolations
as a way of exacting as much ecstasy as I can from the pain.
Absurd as it seems, I'm trying to live up
to the aspirations of rogue fireflies untethered
like a dream of what could be released
like grains of wild wheat in the starfields of a feast
from the treadmills of conditioned consciousness
like constellations of the usual myths of origin
rising and falling like life and death from the east to the west
while everything that thrives on earth is aberrantly turning
against the flow of things like salmon summoned from the sea
by the mystery of a counter-intuitive voice upstream the other way
as my embryonic stem cells listen to what it suggests
and pro-creatively hearing what its eyes have to say
about the immanental vision of life that burns within me, radically obey.
Patrick White's Other Poems
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Comments about this poem (A Paint Rag Of The Masterpiece I Used To Be by Patrick White )
(16 August 1920 – 9 March 1994)
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
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(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)
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(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
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(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
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