Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
Sweet September Fields Sweep Me Away
Sweet September fields sweep me away
with the stragglers among the wildflowers
when the woods are emanating the fragrance
of the collaborative solitude of life
and death smells like an old couch
that’s been left out in the rain, abandoned
like a barn. Or a coffin in no hurry
to bury itself. Scotch thistles, asters,
eggs and butter, all the chicory’s gone
and the Queen Anne’s Lace. I’m hitchhiking
out to Smokin’ Eagles as if I owned space
and time were its caretaker. Lord
of all the estates I survey in passing
from the back of a Ford pick-up truck.
My family thousands of miles away
I haven’t seen for years, my daughter
inexplicably alienated, my son, god knows
where, lovers and friends in the past
still hanging on the walls of my mind
like ashen renditions of the mystic visions
of the Neanderthals, or busty out of date calendars
with nineteen fifties sweater girl sex appeal,
or scenic autumns that never shed their leaves,
yet however culpable I might feel
because I’m shadowed by the arrogance
of thinking anything’s ever anyone’s fault,
I’m freer than I was yesterday, and I’m ageing
like a tree in an old growth forest that’s been
spiked by nails through its heartwood
to keep it from being clear cut down.
And though there’s a sense of integrity
about being alive I still feel I don’t deserve,
as the clouds speed by and everything
is imploding into a point it’s trying to make
I’m certain I’m never going to get,
but so be it, I’m not fleeing from anything
or being drawn by anything up ahead
like a siren on the rocks I was born to drown
in my attempt to rescue. Neither a vector
nor a locus. A man with an irrelevant name
and a poem in his pocket, watching the mustard
take over the fields nobody has any use for
anymore. As they return to what they were
originally dreaming before they woke up
green as wheat in an eternal recurrence of innocence.
I study the fractals of the uppermost branches
of the maples where they meet the sky
like rivers and axons flowing into a sea of light.
Fire, fire, fire, the dragons are rising from the pyres
of the aspen groves like low lying Chinese fog
intermingling with cosmically aspiring Hindu smoke.
Words burn in the heart like processional waterbirds
heading south, and then just as quickly put themselves out
like an Indian paintbrush mixing too much burnt sienna
in its cadmium orange. And though there’s a tinge,
a patina of sad blessing in the air that’s as ancient
as the earth itself, I’m borne by life like a torch
into the dark. I illuminate without leaving any sign
or indelible mark to say I was ever here that wasn’t
at least as perishable as the vetch or the cattails
in the drainage ditches alongside these sweet September fields.
Younger, you paint your life in oils, but as
you grow older you begin to realize life is
a watercolour in a backwash of tears that runs
like blood in the water under the bridge
whenever you cry with no regrets for the evanescence
of the lightyears you left still sleepwalking somewhere
where the river turns and the willows cut off all their hair
behind you, to show you the empty nests
and downy ghosts of the fledgling stars born of the dead.
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