Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
And When We Wake
And when we wake we live the lives
we exiled from our dreams. We enter
the wilderness in the hourglass we drive
our scapegoats into like a dumping ground
for the waste disposal of our infectious sins.
Cleansed of our inner incense and soot
in the unlucky month of May. Poor bears,
poor squirrels, poor scapegoats, poor brides,
o hypocrites, munifikun, purged
by a ritual bath in the saline waters
of our own eyes, I ask you with bitterness and irony
without malice, is our innocence not contagious?
Time demonizes whatever we separate
from ourselves, set aside, cast out, anathematize,
consign to the lost animal shelter, or imprison
in the spirit as if the spirit were some kind of warden
that didn’t have to wear socks over his boots
when he made the night rounds so as
not to wake the cons recasting their nightmares
in bronze like rodeo clowns on rocking horses
before the Trojan gates. Especially in love
we make gifts of the unknown to each other.
Could be a curse, could be a blessing, whoever
knows? - -you take it in, you’re betrayed;
you don’t, the fragrant indifference of your piety
fouls the nostrils of God, as she turns away from you
like sundials and wildflowers away from the sun.
The scapegoat learns to live with himself
like the dark familiar of a Renaissance demon
tragically condemned to practice the occult art
of an infernal kind of compassion in the world
that transcends the absolutes of anyone’s condition,
despite the self they have to keep on shedding
like snakes and dragonflies or last spring’s
tree ring in your heartwood to keep on growing,
the death masks of the screening myths
you see in the mirrors your eyes gather into
like sacred pools of tears unveiled like the rain
every time you pass by, estranged from yourself
as if everything crucially vital about this momentary life,
all the terrors and wonders of this mystery
we’ve been dreaming like a waterclock, afterlife
after afterlife, had been reduced, o how could we
have impoverished ourselves so? - to getting on
with yesterday like the hidden agendas
of busy, busy undertakers washing the starmud
off our corpses for cremation like felled trees
so we can die like fireflies instead of real dragons
with ashes on our breath like a urn full of stars.
O how feeble we’ve become that we have to lean
on all these wise men like crutches we won’t
cast away to do our time standing up on our own
burning ladders of serpent fire climbing our spine
like scarlet runners, to lead us to our mangers,
like public beds in the shelters for the homeless
or the barred cribs of our privatized jail cells.
No winners, no losers, no villains, no heroes,
in truth, it’s hard to tell the victims from
the executioners, given they both wear
a hood over their eyes, and the one isn’t
a new moon and the other an eclipse, both bonded
by the isolation of life on death row
as the curtain parts on the last act of the play
we’re putting on as someone turns down the lights
on the swan song of the full moon in a tar pit
to console the tragically purged witnesses
something infernally compassionate was served by our death.
Call it fate, justice, karma, see it as a morality play
or the absurd theatre of life with no emergency exits
for the actors or the audience, because
as Mephistopheles said to Faustus when he asked
as if knowing would make any difference to anything,
ah, Faustus, why this is hell (can you hear the weary sadness
of the compassion in his voice?) nor we out of it.
And look at us now trying to genetically modify the doctor
in order to cure the disease we’ve afflicted upon ourselves
as if we mythically deflated what’s truly beatific about us
into the candling shadows of pharmaceutical elves
with gargantuan inferiority complexes in the collective unconscious
of a time- -was there ever a time? - -when the angels
mated with the daughters of men? Silly question,
when it’s as clear as the windows of an orphanage
on Heartbreak Hill, we’re the illegitimate children
of now, not designated heirs among the children of then.
Is there ever going to come a day when we’re
disappointed by the disappointments we are to ourselves
we live every moment of our lives, barring
a few fools who think the way to enlightenment
is just a matter of prying your eyelids open with a crowbar,
like an ox-eyed daisy before its time to bloom,
shucking the shell for the sacred syllable
of the black pearl on its tongue like a fee
for the ferryman with his hands on the wheel
of a deathboat lowered into the waters of life
as if our only hope of rescue were oblivion.
Nada. Nada. Nada. In a sunamic Shangrila of dopamines?
Even if you find yourself shaking like a persecution complex
from withdrawal in the bitter dawn
of your tragically flawed impotence
as you watch the spy satellites transit zenith
in everyone’s telescopic eyes, and there’s a circus
in town but no one’s laughing at the pie-bald clowns
like interventionists in disguise, why labour
like an Oxycontin to yoke your gazelles of light
to that apocalyptic deathcart you drag around with you
like an implausible loss of heart in what
you’re doing to yourself bleating like a judas-goat
on a food chain for a morsel from the mouth
of a tiger of wrath you’re hunting like a perfume in heat?
If you’re living in expectation of never
being understood by anyone, maybe you’re
a star ahead of us and the light’s just a little late
in getting to the rest of us, or you’re sorely
underestimating the innate intelligence of your solitude
to make a fool of you by insisting everybody
mistake you real seriously for the mystic missing link
that’s come to help us all like a starting pistol
in a firing squad a legend ahead of your time
to fill in the blanks with our last names first
and you with your flashflood of a vocabulary,
surfing your own thought waves and then announcing
as if you were confessing something wonderful,
a new blues riff to the lamentable nightbirds
you patronize with compassion for their lack of range:
I know you all like secret passwords you only
use once, then throw away. Though, of course, you don’t.
But that’s ok. The nightmares only lie to people
that nothing can change, and that were
the strangest thing about them. Their stem cells
were never irreparably deranged by their metaphoric selves
when even the inner potential of hell has evolved
into a funeral bell that never rings true until it tolls for you.
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