Only The Loneliest Of Ghosts Gone Mad - Poem by Patrick White
Only the loneliest of ghosts gone mad
don’t fret their abstractions with facts.
The wind is pure and seedless and the moon
without weeds. Like old windows,
they weep tears of glass for what they’ve seen
like glaciers in an ice age slowly thawing out.
My voice is the tragic black box of many
panicked conversations trying to act professionally
just before things went deeply south. Orphic descents
into the underworld of the dead and the songs
I sang from the heartwood of my lyre, still resonate
like the shadows that flitted through the sacred groves,
the occult feathers of a coven of crows
that taught me posthumous dream grammars
have no verbs because everything’s already been achieved.
Strange, strange, and inexplicably human, how
the imagination is as easily seized upon
at this time of night by the dead and gone
as by the living, mysteriously animate and near.
I don’t deny there are demonic spirits
that can freeze my eyes with fear, lords
of the abyss that know how to clear a stage real fast
as all my dream figures sublimate like dry ice
into more habitable atmospheres, but I stay centred
at the nave of this prayerwheel of birth and death
and let whatever wants to emanate through me
fan out from there like the spokes of a sea star.
Together we make a zodiac of anathemas and benedictions.
The dead can bestow blessings and lift your spirits
like a curse if the timing’s right and you don’t
waste your trust on quoting chapter and verse.
Ghosts are the last inspiration of the air
the living breathe out as if they were returning
the waters of life to the river they drank from.
The moon passes on, but its reflection makes
an indelible impression upon the mind like a woman
grieving in a cemetery late at night for a baby
she held in her arms like the death of the dawn
and even the black dog of the autumn wind
is at a loss to know how to keen as deeply as that.
Voices out of nowhere, commanding no, don’t go in there
and others, gentle as fireflies that summon me
to follow bracken covered trails through the woods
to a plaque in the ground with a toppled Mason jar
of dried chicory and cornflowers that can still move me to tears
a hundred and fifty years after they died at twelve
of some garish pioneer fever with the name of their favourite colour.
I don’t shut the windows. I don’t close the doors.
I don’t smudge the air with sage or cedar boughs
to drive them out of the attic like bats. I let the dead
come and go as they please. I let their sorrows touch me
and my spirit bleed with empathy for the windfall
of wounded bells that haunt the grass like an eerie carillon
of death knells for the music of the past they once bloomed for
like new moons in a calendar of waning skulls. My house
is their house. They cling to me like an hospitable threshold
for homeless atmospheres very few among the living
know how to breathe in and out anymore without resorting
to a seance or an exorcism conducted like a bus stop for runaways
and vagrants common wisdom says it isn’t wise to trust.
Why shouldn’t the unsheltered dead take their place
at the round table in me like the shadow of a sundial
in a garden abandoned by time where dry-mouthed fountains of salt
still long for a taste of the rain in the tears of their dark watersheds
deep underground like wells that have yet to be divined?
The memory of the waters of life is the muse of the wine
they bring to the table like an echo of blood that’s gone on
ripening in them like uncultivated grapevines in the wild.
One drop on your tongue and you’re drunk
in the doorways of life for the rest of time like a dream
you can’t die in like an imperilled heart without
being grateful there’s as much to celebrate at the end
as there is a new start, that living and dying are the same event.
And as often as the dead have come to me in joy
though that might surprise the uninitiated who still divide
the hellbound from the heaven-sent, the fire from the light it sheds,
so the living have approached me like a perennial lament
for everything that’s missing in their lives like a bright vacancy
out of touch with the dark abundance that thrives
in their uprooted shadows like midnight at noon.
What sea do the Styx, Lethe, and Phlegathon flow into
that isn’t the same for the four mindstreams of awareness
that poured out of Eden, or the gardens and underground rivers
among the fountains of Salsabil in Jana or the waters of Babylon
Zion sat down and wept by? Or the dead leaves
of the burning maples I watch floating by on the Tay
like experienced fires inspired by the starmaps of autumn?
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