Patrick White

(September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)

I Still Believe The Pursuit Of Earthly Excellence


I still believe the pursuit of an earthly excellence,
not in name alone, but in the act of elucidating
even so much as a firefly’s insight into the darkness
to add your experience and confusion to the abyss
like a myth of origins in progress, is a noble calling,
a privilege accorded by the moon to wear the hide
and head of a wolf when the spirit howls in longing
to lift the agony of humans up to the stars as if
there were no greater sacrifice we had to give than this
that makes us peers of those fires, eye to eye, mirror to mirror
as above so below, the jewel of compassion in the slag
of our suffering, the beauty of the rose in the midst of its thorns
weeping holy blood on the skulls of her prophetic children.

A poet among people, a voice, a hermit thrush or an owl,
a red-winged blackbird on a dead branch or a crow
on the cabled bridge of the green blackberry,
or an indigo grackle, the eclipse of the mourning dove,
regardless of who or who isn’t listening to the wind
rasp over this desert of stars in an hourglass
like the wavelength of a serpent of fire as a sign of intelligence:

Say what is uniquely human about you so that
others might recognize themselves in the music.
Mourn as you must as if it were your funeral
you were going to as one day it will be,
your ashes in the locket around a loved one’s neck,
and break trail along the way as you explore
the wilderness of your loss so that others might follow,
assured by the dolmen of your presence in their solitude
the dangers of the journey are humanly surmountable.

A poet among people, that’s what you can say to yourself
on your deathbed and mean it in gratitude with a smile
at whatever shape of chaos you’re worshipping at the time,
you had a summons to suffer, praise, rejoice, mean and go mad
on behalf of other people, you, a self portrait of them.

Your love of them voluntarily going into exile,
or driven into it by the very ignorance you’re dying to overcome,
to know their homelessness as if it were a threshold your own,
to sow the available dimensions of the future
with metaphoric weeds and wildflowers in the starfields
so we don’t forget what all the fuss about enlightenment
means to a species rooted like a waterlily in its starmud
as if that were the dark genius behind all that shining,
the apex, the acumen, the anthos, not the denouement
of our flowering, and no future habitable that isn’t freely human
to express its awe and wonder at being imaginatively alive
like a purpureal crocus under an eyelid of opalescent snow.

Poetry is the discipline of a crazy person
who walks wisely among people half-fearful
of how fiercely vulnerable you must become to love them
as if there’d never be anything in it for you,
the most indefensibly human of them all
o so much more substantial than your dream figures
once you wake up, stubbing your heart on the rock of the world,
a razor blade to the artery of the rose that bleeds
just a profusely as you do when death cuts obliquely
into the stem and presents it like the ear of a bull
to the moon in a sacred brothel around the corner
opposite the Iseum where they make the partial whole again.

Incited by life to be demonically playful in the darkness,
angelically withdrawn like the stars and shadows at noon,
cherish the inconceivable nights that are not rewards
for anything you could have done or earned, as love
and inspiration aren’t, and marvel the more
at the strangeness of the miracle that things are this way.

Exhausted mid stride between the noon and dusk of your life,
don’t underestimate the mysticism of action
in the mundane labours of the day responding like bees
to the floral opportunities of tending the larkspur
like a voice coach pinging a tuning fork on their stamens.
Work at nothing that isn’t a form of worship
that demands your passion. Not to be fascinated by your life
is a child labour sweat factory of human enslavement.

The petty won’t brave their own happiness
nor that of anyone else, but the generous will
who understand that happiness is a grace of the heart
that happens to you from the inside out like a fortune cookie
not a law of causality misery is endlessly trying to repeal
beyond a reasonable doubt of ever coming true.

But seldom a joy without a bruise for a poet
whose bell of sorrows depends like most humans
as much upon the rain as the light to ripen
into the warm sugars of life like wild apples at sunset.
The eyes that look the deepest are usually the saddest
like housewells anyone’s free to draw from
but god, what poignancy of light smiles favourably
upon the faces of the tragically fulfilled
who lived out their singular prophecies
to purge everyone’s terror with empathy for their fate.

Arete, excellence. Aristos of merit. Beauty of soul, mind, body, heart,
the quality of your awareness, the largesse of your experience,
the natural humility of the bow you return to the mystery
of a tree in bloom, and the wisdom of an old stump,
not in the way of perfection, but the brilliance and courage
of your failure to attain the unattainable, enlightenment
the ultimate defeat for the benefit of all because it’s never complete
even when the Buddha goes straight to hell like an arrow.

Not void bound, bless the intuitive disobedience of the poet
who burns in the flames of her most sacred heresy,
savagely curse with compassion the erosive injustice
of the greedy legislating impoverished standards of living,
raise your voice when you see murder being done
so your silence isn’t complicit and the power of your rage
mollified by the slag of association that blunts
the edge of your sword when the only mercy is a quick kill
with a sharp blade and you go to it like your own execution.

I don’t care if you’re a junkie sleeping on a car seat
on the back porch of a crack house in the summer,
wondering in a moment to yourself if the stars ever weep for us,
or an associate professor of English at the University of Victoria,
cherishing a pair of thin leather gloves some raving beauty
left in your office and though she never returned
to reclaim them and you as for years you hoped and hoped
still rot like black banana skins on your windowsill,
a divorced housewife doing investigative forensics
on what happened to her life at the kitchen table,
share whatever starfields you’ve sown with tares or wheat
as if there were always enough bread to break with everyone.

Take the gold coin you call a career from under your tongue
like a false moonrise and washing your corpse
in your own grave, take the edges off your sphericity,
average the crucials out like a pebble or a planet
in the great tides of life you’re immersed in
like a human panning their own starmud for a little more light
to be shed in the depths of their oceanic awareness
than there was before you showed up like one bright fish
and lit your cells up like votive candles dedicated to the dark
and started seeing things by the light of your own life,
not the Rosetta stone of three dead languages
that never spoke from the heart about the ruses
of being human that get us through the darkest nights of ourselves,

so when someone takes a greasy volume of poems
down from the shelf, the cover worn off, the glue
of the perfect binding crumbling like dreams
in the corners of their eyes as they wake up,
and they’re shuffling loose pages as if they were
paginating a deck of cards, or trying to keep
the leaves of an autumn tree together, though you’re dead,

though your tongue is a leaf on the wind
and your eyes are clouds, your breath gone proto-nebular,
and it’s three in the morning, and the solitude is withering,
and insanity is grinning in their face as if to say
you always knew this is what it would come to,
and they reach for you like a home-brew of magic syllables,
yarrow sticks and tea leaves, liver spots and fossils
in a bonebox at the bottom of your skull cup,
write in such a way they don’t just read what you’ve said
but sit down on the ground with a friend they can share things with
and break your book open like a loaf of bread
spiritually cooling on an open windowsill as fragrant
as white sweet clover growing along the roadsides of paradise,
but as substantially nurturing to life as compassion for the flesh.

Submitted: Saturday, March 30, 2013

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