Sitting In The Night At My Desk - Poem by Patrick White
Sitting in the night at my desk, trying
not to intrude on my silence and solitude
I'm beginning to glow like a motherlode of gold
hidden deep in a heart of dark, dark ore
as the gas furnace cracks its pipes like the Tin Man
learning to play drums with brass knuckles on
and my cat chirps in her sleep beside me
and the goldfish are grazing on oxygen
at the surface of their becalmed tank,
three flames of a water ballet hanging
like the bent tines of a trident or the inverted candelabra
of some flower that blooms in fire as if
a quiet comet were passing through the room
uncertain whether it's an arsonist in a library
or a funeral home, depending on the ghost you talk to.
Big night out there. No stars. Nothing moving.
The clouds are holding a pillow of snow
over the face of the town as it sleeps.
I can't see anyone's eyes and there's
nothing I can say to the dreamcatchers in the windows
about the quality of the picture-music their listening to
that's making them feel like spiderwebs other than
spring's coming, the butterflies will be out soon
and we'll all hang out like flypaper sticky with stars.
But in here where I'm witnessing my awareness of I am
as if I were swimming in a sea of nocturnal sapphires,
the first draft of a deciduous starmap caught
in the vertiginous eddies and whirlpools of the black holes
and supernovas exploding like fireflies and lighthouses
in distant island galaxies trying to warn me away from the rocks,
I go along with things like moonrise on a lake when there is one,
or mermaids singing like the Burgess Shale on the mountaintops
of lunar shadows creeping across their dead seabeds
like the long wavelengths of an outgoing tide.
The life of the mind isn't mine though I'm
still delusional enough to think I've taken
possession of my heart. Let the wind blow
like the spiritual broom of an enlightened rehab center
and try to sweep my mirage away like stars
from the stairwells of a desert, let it huff and puff
as it will, no matter, it stays like a mirror that's been kind to me.
It's as important to have a fool in your life
that makes you laugh at yourself or at least break a smile
you can be loyal to, as it is to honour a wise man
with garlands and laurels and words he has no need of.
I'd rather be denuded by the fingertips and lips of love
than skinned by the manicured nails and scalpels of clarity.
Or let it make this scarred wolf-hide into a drumhead if it must
but once the duststorm in the hourglass has passed
and time has come to the end of its traplines like a good thing
that couldn't last, I'll still be standing here as I am tonight
in my tattoos and starmaps with the tears I painted
in my own blood under their eyes like ripe plums
about to thunder like a pulse in the ears of the abyss.
The banshee of the train whistle goes looking for her lost child
like an orphan she abandoned in the woods. Even
under the duff and detritus of last year's works
the wet night bleeds of light by putting leeches on their eyelids
to draw the four humours of their infectious visions out,
I can feel the wild-eyed crocuses blooming
like the cervixes of spring unashamed of their sex.
I can feel the heat of the sun like a bemused caress
on the grey cedar driftwood of my arm as if
all these puppets in chaos beside the lake
were made of flesh and bone as small snapping turtles
lay their shields against the gunwales of a half-sunken log
in the warrior hall of a Viking funeral ship on fire
at Lance aux Meadows in Newfoundland
watching the ice bergs drift by like lazy, white whales
in search of the Titanic and the Pequot caught
with their lifeboats down like the typical hubris
of an anachronistic biblical death wish
to drown like Narcissus in their own ship-wrecked reflections,
like critical questions left unanswered
by the Attic dialect of a chorus of satyrs
celebrating life at a sacrifice of tragic scapegoats.
Imagine that as if you were one of the voodoo dolls,
strawdogs, or a scarecrow of smouldering hay
that smells like methane in the sun as the snow
rots around you like an archipelago of lunar leper colonies
trying to imperialize the moon as they lose
sight of the last of their shorelines to global warming,
I say to myself in compassionate tones of Wilfred Owen,
the poetry's in the pity, not the wherefore of the atrocity.
Mine moves in like the shapeshifting wraiths of a cool fog
into a no man's land of dead trees sticking out of the lake
like crucifixes and stakes where my ghosts
can breathe freely like comets at their own wakes
in a detoxified upper atmosphere of northern lights
whose veils are neither a seance nor a summons
to a mystic exorcism in the green sunsets of ochre mustard gas.
I lay a wreath of cedar boughs down on the lake
like a poultice of moonlight to remember them by
and cool their eyes kissing each of them to sleep
to keep them from feeling like bats smoked out of an attic
where we keep the dismembered toys of our childhood memories
we're not in the habit of playing with anymore
as if we grew bored with trying to destroy them.
A shudder of cobalt blue in the sky, and here comes
the sun like a burning bush of vagrant tumbleweed
in the ghost town of a deserted zodiac, thinking
it can tell me what to do again like a prophetic errand boy
with messages for a pharaonic reality of lesser magicians
trying to drive the golden chariot of the sun
like corporate executives and spin doctors of Amun Ra
through the gunshot slums of a great wound in the side
of the Red Sea in the morning that's about to overwhelm them
in sunamis of fanatical holy blood on the wings of a burning dove
consumed by self-immolations of savagely righteous indignation
that the night should end in exile, and the day
that's journeyed so far from what it used to know
wake up alone and homeless as a love lyric in ashes to this.
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