Patrick White (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)
The Long, Dark Night
The long, dark night, more anthracite
than bituminous. And one star, alone,
fierce above the town, burning, as a jetliner
blinks its way down to landing in Ottawa.
Pythagoras’ transmigration of souls
in the body of birds, Iranian angels
with lives like messages for loved ones
and strangers. But I’m deep in the valley
where the Algonquin and Ojibway
got here first, and the Canada geese, though
they’ve flown away, bear the deceased
after their bones are dust to the south
and the west of the dawn they watched
lest they forget where things rise again
and set, through the eastern doors of
their burial huts as if death were a kind of love.
Samhain, soon, Festival of the Dead, witches’
New Year, All Hallowed Eve, where the dead
are allowed yard time free of their isolation cells,
or wherever the waterbirds took them,
ventriloquists behind the mesh of their
electric veils, the hand of the living
pressed against the hand of the dead,
let the witches jump naked through
the sun at midnight, half way between
fall and winter. Let the prophetic skulls
whisper something old on the nape of poetry.
Aldebaran and Capella to the north, one week
until the Pleiades breaks the horizon,
the moon and Jupiter rising in the east
after midnight through the denuded trees
in the park. Perfectly still out, not
a human in sight if I don’t put the emphasis
on myself. Just me and the streetlamps
and the last of the flowers wondering
what’s happening to them as their dyes
are charred by the frost like a bonnet of warpaint.
The more I study things as I get older,
common things, obvious details, the more
I am estranged by my own knowledge.
The leaves are making silkscreens
on the sidewalk. And what I thought
I knew, I’ve shed like the last skin
of the moon’s original totem before
I go into hibernation like a wavelength
with cold blood. A red shift and then oblivion.
More calm than morose, there’s not much
left to lose. The flames of the daylilies
have all been snuffed and they’re up
to their candleholders in the leaves
of yesterday’s fires like a brown out
of a dragon in a crematorium, a pyre
trying to make its bones disappear
in perfect combustion, not a scale
left unincinerated, dust to dust, ashes
to ashes in the subliminal holocaust of the heart.
Things pass, things perish, things die away
like a woman back lit by a window
more than once. I carry on to nowhere
I know I am, not in the mood to stare back.
I’ve made this town the nave of my spoked wheel
of birth and death for the last thirty-five years
writing and painting the mindscapes
of the tourist traps that think they’re here to fish.
I’ve hot waxed and laid my life out
like a glossy brochure without a computer app.
More the picture music of the way things are
than a photograph or an advertisement
to sell you terra firma in the winter
than starmud that will flood you out
in the spring when real estate begins to thaw.
I haven’t exaggerated the longing
of the nightingales or hermit thrushes
that sing unseen in the woods at night
with more hope than I have that something
will answer them back out of the pitch-black abyss,
for reasons of its own. The La Brea tarpit,
or a nest egg quilted in goose down like
moonlight, or hobby farm wives cutting
patches out of a working starmap gone
at the knees, with too many black holes in it
to mend anymore, the sail of the pirate
fired upon like a mailbox at the side of the road,
commemorated as the death shroud
of a colourful bedspread empowered
like a mandala to lead you astray
by following your dreams wherever
they may lead, a heritage cemetery or buried at sea.
Or maybe, if you’re nocturnal and rustic enough,
just roadkill somebody put a blanket over
so you didn’t have to see their face
or the shock in their eyes this isn’t such
a petty place. It compares with a tole-painted urn
from anywhere and the fire masters
scry by the rings and the cracks in your heartwood.
Things heat up in the winter, in the summer
they chill out by the doe-eyed lake caught
in the highbeams of the moon looking for
a blue number they can relay to the ambulance
on its way to pick the corpse of another workhorse up.
“Gonna die less than a hundred feet
from where I was born. How many can say that? ”
Buried deep enough in his own starmud
the bush dogs don’t dig him up again
like grave robbers to see what a pharaoh
wasted his life on thinking it would distract
from the pain to build in stone what
he rocked from the starfields and tongue depressors
of the graveyard to see what he died of
without ploughing his body up like a tractor
gone crazy on the moon he seeds with cattle corn.
Or the mad farmer they found sowing the woods
holding onto the tail of a huge black bull that led the way.
What do you think? Is there as much moisture
in the soil at the new as there is at the full moon
because gravity pulls the tides one way and then the other
under the influence of the dreams of a sleeping child?
Is it a boustrophedon or a labyrinth? Is it a good time
to plant new ideas like stars in the dark matter
that clings to our rubber boots like the heart
of something that has remained stubbornly true to us
without making a big fuss about it? Or not?
Comments about this poem (The Long, Dark Night by Patrick White )
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