O, An Oasis In A Tarpit - Poem by Patrick White
O, an oasis in a tarpit when being alive
is more than enough, and happiness doesn’t scare me
half as much as it used to. It’s only an eyelid,
an opening and closing of doors, a Cepheid variable,
the blinking of the moon, blue chicory
among the stinging nettles, not the horrific beatitude
it used to seem when I was too young- -
When was that? Yesterday? - -to let it come
and go. A waterlily of joy, it blossoms among the stars
but its white fire is rooted in the lowest detritus
of the swamp that lives on its own perishing.
Happiness isn’t a reason to live. It’s living
beyond reason, unreasonably. Life without a buffer zone
when you can walk skinless in the moonlight
like a smooth stone in a medicine-bag of stars
that sends you skipping out over their reflections
in a lake without a name as deep as the mystery of life
and then you sink as if you’d been looking Medusa
in the third eye. And what are you, then, if not
a lifeboat of a fish swimming through the nightsky
of a bejewelled underworld resonant with soft laments?
I feel the effervescence of the Pleiades
carbonating the waters of my life. A great blue heron
flaps off like the headlines of yesterday’s newspaper,
or the first draft of another poem inspired by the abyss,
and I’m not unmindful of the sorrows of the world,
and that this is recess, a sparkle in the eye of eternity,
the exuberance of a boy on a dolphin in a great night sea
of perilous awareness, not lightyears of bliss
shed by a firefly that came looking for me in the dark.
I haven’t been rescued from anything. The depths
and the surface are one for the moment,
the highest and the lowest, the silly and sublime.
A dragon. A plumed serpent with a circumpolar outlook
a peacock of a dinosaur flaunting its boas
like a Fauvist painting of sex in the eyes of love and death.
A ghost dance, of sorts, where my beginnings
partner with my ends and together they make
one bird, one candle in a cowled plumage of flame
that took a vow of poverty but has the flightfeathers
of an heretical phoenix to spare just the same.
The nighthawk is riding its own thermals, the owl
isn’t encumbered by its wisdom. I’m free inside.
All the aviaries are empty and I’ve got an open door policy
on my voice-box. The chimney’s mellifluous
with bluebirds in the morning, and by nightfall
even the most feeble sparks of insight are exalted
by the constellations of the Eagle and the Swan.
No companion but my solitude is pleased with itself.
Everything I see and hear, down to the smallest
pale-green frog chirping in the cattails, silvered
in moonlight and water as the black snake tastes it
like a ripe strawberry on the warm, summer air,
is ancestor, bloodline, wavelength woven into
a flying carpet of picture-music I’m riding
like the multiversal destiny of my membranous mindstream
and because I love starmaps and leaves, I’m riffing off
the leit motifs of the stars, I’m writing poems in the glyphs
of the scars like birthmarks on the bodies of good guitars.
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