Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
Hitch Hiking Out To Richardson For Discount Cigarettes
A hundred and fifty cars go past, someone counting sheep
in a dream that’s got nothing to do with me.
I may look like a pauper but my vehicular inferiority
is more than compensated for by what I can see
close up and intimately in the grass, and the sun
on the brawn of my arms protruding from a tank top
like the Bronze Age. I’m a Mycenean setting sail
on the surge of the wind in the gladiatorial reeds
of the oceanic cattails at peace with the rage of the world.
The dusty white clay of the road chalks my runners
like blackboards of starmud in the Burgess Shale.
Six miles and I can already feel my femurs
starting to take on the air of fluted pillars
as my muscles stretch around the block
like hemophiliacs at a bloodbank gasping for oxygen.
I stick out my thumb like a spectator in the Colosseum,
neither up nor down, not the first nor the last crescent
of the trigger of the moon, one road in a yellow road
as if I had no opinion on whether the defeated
should live or die and I stare straight into the eyes
of the windshields like the Pythian oracles of Delphi
with no life left in them as they whizz by without breaking stride.
Nice try. Let them live. Empathy for the hell of it.
Swathes of grass the road crews cut. Rags
of chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace have learned to duck.
Mandalic starclusters, doilies of brocade
in an ageing house of life, have you ever noticed
how they fold their spokes up after they’re flowerless
like inverted umbrellas into the most elegant nests
as if they’ve been tooled like Faberge egg cups?
I look across the open fields to the albino scars
of the birch in the border bush rows of a Euclidean theorem
about where to plant the cocker-spanieled ears of corn.
I see neolithic villages in the spikes of the wheat
as I have in the bleached hair of the blondes
I’ve gone out with wondering if it’s the ergot on the stalk
that engenders the little tree of the magic mushroom
that walks you through the stations of the Eleusinian mysteries
so you’re never the same after that, and why
in Islam the staff of life is considered forbidden fruit
if it isn’t at least as hallucinogenic as the gods
growing paranoid about how much we may and may not know.
Candelabra of purple loosestrife, vetch and clover,
and the evening primrose that reminds me
of all those sunsets I spent cooling off in paradise
with a woman more earthbound than Lilith or Eve
who believed in the way I painted the petals
of English ox-eyed daisies the wind had dishevelled
like matchbooks some boy had pryed open
like people and steeples before they were ready to bloom.
Black rimless shades. Do I look like a serial killer?
I feel like a mendicant Zen poet on my way to Eido
in Tokugawa Japan, minus the hossu and the fan.
Life overgrows itself, a niche-dweller, in the culvert,
the fence post, the asteroid belt of gravel I’m walking on,
no occasion for flourishing overlooked, its stillness
in a hurry as I am not, the milkweed nursing
its Monarch butterflies, the pampas grass
preening its plumes like the quills of hieroglyphs,
what a riot of overstatement it takes to makes its point
as if there was a point to it all in the first place.
A yellow Mustang muscles its middle-aged paint job by
polished like an enamel buttercup, but it’s not
going to stop as it sucks the dragonflies up like krill
through its grill, cruising for sulphur butterflies
that gives it that jaundiced colour as if Van Gogh
had been eating his chrome yellow again. Avaunt ye,
knave, I’m the errant dragon knight that isn’t
going to save you from the damsel as she says
soft shoulders go slow before she drives you off the road.
Part of looping like an eternal recurrence
through time I guess. But, yellow, man, yellow.
That’s a bad guess. Don’t you remember what
Henry Ford said. I don’t care what colour you paint them
as long as they’re black? How wide does
that racing stripe of yellow down your back
need to be before you realize you look like the lines
of a passing lane? Not cruel, brother, just got to
vent a little at your sin of omission. Where do you
park your horse, cowboy, at the drugstore?
You ride on like the Lone Ranger. Tonto’d rather walk.
A raccoon’s severed paw at my feet, the catatonic full moon
of an empty Tim Horton’s cup trying to civilize
pagan Germania in the Teutoburg Forest, brown paper bag
from the liquor-store, I’m in the middle of a modern midden
that runs like a country highway through a landfill.
Who needs the NSA when you can take on the identity
of what you throw away? Don’t underestimate
the power of the earth to remember and redress.
Wherever you keep your garbage. That’s where your home is.
Two miles more and my lungs are alien atmospheres
trying to cling to a habitable planet like an aura of air
laced with diesel fuel, hot asphalt, carbon monoxide.
The Taliban of the wild parsnip throws acid in my face.
A thousand yards of silence punctuated by birdsong
flooding the woods after the roar of the long thought trains
passing bumper to bumper like Bactrian camels
on the Silk Road behind a driver asserting his will
by mean-heartedly doing the speed limit to live forever
like an accident waiting to happen to a self-righteous caterpillar.
The road grows long. I’m doing my time standing up
like a red blood cell on a pilgrimage to the shrine
of the goddess of nicotine at the eastern doors
of the burial hut of Smokin’ Eagles, until my bones are dust,
and my spirit’s gone south with the Canada geese.
Whenever I make a truce with the world
I stuff my peace pipe with tobacco and pass it around.
In another life I think I might have been a hookah.
I’d rather be killed by the thing I love than something
I didn’t have any feelings for. You can live
three lifetimes more a moment when you’re happier
than you can when you’re doing it by a book
you didn’t write. Still think its dangerously debilitating
to be too wholesome like the smell of bread in a denatured bakery
that reeks of frustrated capitalism. The angels
only know one side of things. They’re cyclopic.
The demons have two eyes like we do. They’re stereoscopic.
Who knows? Maybe I’m dropping ashes on the Buddha?
As an SUV pulls over to the side of the road behind me
with the smile of a friendly New Brunswicker
who’s been living in Innisville for the last thirty years
and he immediately puts me at my ease because
I can tell he’s the real thing, a decent human being,
and I start talking cheerful normalese to prove
I’m definitely not a serial killer. Peace, brother,
beauty, love, the sixties fifty years later just got
into your car and to judge by that light show in your eyes
you were there, as an unspoken vision of life
binds us to this road we’ll travel down awhile together
like two passing strangers as the night approaches
the simple kindness and sincere gratitude of the encounter.
All part of the spiritual evolution of two retrograde revolutionaries
looping back on themselves like the second innocence
of the return journey, better than the first,
like green wine from wild grapes that’s had a chance
to age the dream awhile like coopers in our heartwood.
And too close to death to lie, still wonder what
it was all about. Did it do any good? Have we lived it well
over all these intervening light years we’ve been
holding it together like god particles without sacrificing
the creative freedom that comes with being vast
and spaced out. Did the effortless meaninglessness
of our evanescence ever make a difference to anything?
A chaos of fireflies or a cosmic array of stars in the sky,
one thing for sure, we’ll be long gone by the time
the light gets to where it’s going so the circle,
even squared with the way things seem, remains unbroken.
Comments about this poem (Hitch Hiking Out To Richardson For Discount Cigarettes by Patrick White )
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