Dreaming Strange - Poem by Patrick White
Dreaming strange on a mattress of snakes
slowing down in the early autumn
like the hour hands of cold-blooded clocks.
They’re winching yachts out of the water
like sharks at Rideau Ferry Dock.
“Winter is icummen in, icummen in”
as life braces to take a bath in its own grave,
but nothing, I mean nothing matters
very much right now to the crickets and frogs
mesmerized by Indian summer into
an encore of white noise in the unleafing woods
and the whole town doped out on opioids
like a clean needle exchange for sunbeams.
No one’s wearing their flying carpet out
under the window quite yet, though it’s hard
not to be reminded of what’s icummen in
when the blueberries have the same look
in their eyes as roadkill and just because
time stops to admire its own reflection
doesn’t mean it’s forgiven us for wasting it
on the trivial pursuits of our own survival.
The moment shapeshifts and I change with it
not knowing whether it’s dusk or dawn,
if it’s time to go to ground or pull up stakes
like the heretical scarlet runners and sunflowers
that flamed out like pilot lights with big dreams
of setting the world on fire with seeds and beans.
How odd that passions I was ready
to commit suicide or die for yesterday
have faded like the watercolours of the falling leaves
or old, grey barnboards, warped by the sun
and the rain, pulling the nails out
of their stigmatized crossbeams with their teeth
and spitting them on the ground like pine-needles
or Androcles and the lion. A cedar rail fence
on the south side of an unrocked field
with nothing to keep in or out anymore
since the last cow was trucked off to auction.
The Indian paintbrushes are matchbooks in ashes.
The rosaries of the Canada geese leaving
at midnight like tenants sneaking out on the rent
are birds on the jinx of a prayerwheel
heading home like white-collared Jesuits to France
leaving the pagans to their own resources,
dancing around the firepits of the spirits
they return to like default salvations
that will get them through the winter
like ten cubic cords of hardwood and a moose
in the freezer like a baby mammoth in an ice-age.
I’m trying to grow old elegantly like a sunset
the fighter pilots at Trenton would want to spray bomb
with contrails, or a troubled soul might want
to disappear into like the denouement
of a long road around the knots in its heartwood
obstructing the flow of the grain from finding
the dynamic equilibrium of its own level at rest,
be it among the dark roots of things, or leaves
burning on the water of the lake as the stars emerge.
Not for fame or to embroider the descending drapery
of the dream to fool the last act of the play
into thinking it’s forever spring. Not for the laurels
I’m just as happy to have fall from the brick walls
they cling to like ivy after the burning of the books.
Not believing the night is a reward I’m entitled to
for anything I deserve or have earned,
or might haven fallen to earth like a windfall
of wild apple trees with no effort on my part,
but simply to honour the anonymous starmud
that rooted Venus in my eyes like the fire of love
on the green bough of the morning, and in the evening,
approaching me now, like a doorway that’s
opening before me, just as incomprehensively beautiful
through the dead branches still blossoming and bearing
behind the abandoned farmhouse the ghosts
of the previous tenants beside the Jerusalem artichokes left
like the sign of an afterlife that would go on thriving without them.
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