Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
Pine Groves On The Battered Hill
Pine groves on the battered hill
giving birth to a bell on the nightwatch
as the moon rises like a midwife with a clean towel.
Pine cones like pagodas enlightened into life
like the eyelids of a fire that passed through
this summer like a poet with a seed bag
of first drafts. Ancient melancholy, lachrymose
secret, I can feel the ghosts of things
I don’t understand, slow tears at the edge
of the grasslands they’re lost in at the river’s edge.
Should I care for a darkness I’m not meant to know
as the bears are stuffing themselves on town dumps
and windfalls to fuel the winter in their layers
of candle fat as if they were still worshipped in caves?
I sit around the lotus of my many-petalled fire
blooming in mythic shadows enlarged
by the coven of trees they’re dancing with.
Here evil isn’t deliberate, and violence is innocent.
The thieves take what they need to live
and leave the rest. I’m afraid sometimes,
but the beast in my blood is in accord with the risk
and the cold air smells engagingly dangerous.
A warm rose spills from the throat of a quick kill,
the only mercy available to a snow owl that has to eat.
There’s more integrity in dying alone
in the woods at night for indiscernible reasons
with perfect timing than there is in dying en masse
in a drone strike as collateral damage.
It may be preyed upon but the white-tailed buck
doesn’t feel victimized by the unlicensed culls of the wolves.
Nothing can happen to me out here
that the beaver and the muskrat don’t
have to live with as well where skulls
are flowerpots and the ants mulch the Monarchs
too old and late to make the trip back,
that sipped on milkweed unfouled by pesticides
until they pressed themselves, intact,
between the covers of a collectible chapbook.
I like poems from the heartwood
with the bark still on them and a growing edge
more than those that have been pulped and milled
through a creative writing school
that sits in the corner like a piece
of erudite furniture meant to impress
more than unjam a logboom with the pike of a pen
or offer anyone a chance to take a load off.
I sit on a glacial rock and it feels like
the throne of the Stone of Scone returned to the Scots.
I hear a twig break like the wing of a tragic nightbird
in something’s teeth, or the dead are walking
the way the Algonquin used to along this riverbank
without ever imagining someone like me
camped here painting their features in smoke
as if all we had left of our common humanity
were the stars that looked down upon us
with the impersonal compassion of the tears
of the pines in their eyes hardening like a river
in the approaching cold of the dragon that shed them
like incense over the pyre of a coniferous miscarriage.
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