Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
In A Drastic Town Where The Waterwheels Had Stopped
In a drastic town where the waterwheels had stopped,
and the swallows sorted mail in the fieldstone niches
of a dry birth canal, I gave my heart a name,
The Burning Apple, The Unfeathered Snake,
because there was no other bridge to reach out to
and I didn’t drink, my pulse the footfall
of a defeated bell of a man climbing the stairs
to an attic apartment I didn’t trust enough
to ask him what he thought about in there
or was it all mirrors lying in state for him
to undertake their burial like Horace’s country villa.
Three hundred rooms. Roman modesty. Imagine
the stars in your eyes you’d have to short change
like a conversation you’re really not involved in
to resilver the creaking floorboards of your life
the worn rungs of your bones, in moonlight
on the voices of the nightingales and pastoral pillars of that.
From one aside to the next, a gateway to nowhere
and then a fence, the people live as they can,
enslaved by their own need to own something
they can die in the service of like a graveyard
in the greater scheme of events. I sat at an open window
in the cool of the morning’s moodring and admired how much
the saplings had flourished into sprawling trees
that would soon be initiated into an unkempt ceremony
of township chainsaws that would keep them
from overreaching the powerlines outside the drugstore.
OutZenning my Buddhist inclinations, I killed
a mosquito that mistook me for a bloodbank all night
on the shadow of the wire screen like a partial eclipse,
thinking that nips the foodchain in the bud. I’m either
a penumbral tyrant, or darker yet, a great liberator
as I watched the lights come on in the earliest restaurant
to greet the dawn, as willowy waitresses young
as wet hair, roused themselves like dew
that’s been crying all night in a dream of humid stars
to the jarring nightmare of the sun at the door of their jobs.
Me and the cat, with no tribal rights to the window,
chattering staccato under her breath like a squirrel to constrain
the tension of wanting to kill the unattainable pigeons,
their barrel rolls and flybys, without giving herself away
like a secret lying in wait, a trigger of fate, disciplined
as a straight razor in free flight, as I numbly ruminated
on murdering worlds within worlds out of necessity and spite,
wondering if the ghosts of the mad see everything differently
when they’ve been clarified enough by death, not
to get caught in the light of their imageless exactitudes
or if life stays true to its word in the tombs of their dead metaphors.
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