Patrick White

(September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)

Voices In The Labyrinth

Voices in the labyrinth at the end of this heartless space
I seem to have wandered into, weary of sorrow, numbed
like a sand-blasted hourglass to the passage of time
not going anywhere it hasn’t been before, each day
greeted like the potato of an old lover with the charms
of a rose, though I can say no less of me, as we stop
to dogpaddle in each other’s mundane mysteries
without being drowned like dolphins caught in fishing nets.

No more wise sententiae please that slam my fingers
in the door, no more trying to squeeze mystic wine
from the blisters on my winged heels trying to shake
the pebble of the world like an avalanche off the road
between the mountains and the Skeena River from Terrace
to Prince Rupert, knowing it’s not safe to stop for long
without being buried in an asteroid belt. The harder
people try to be happy, the more miserable everything gets.

Happiness is more like luck than a premonition of things to come
if you’re flawless and patient enough to labour at it
like a nightshift in a coal mine praying for diamonds
that taste like the waters of life on the blackened lips
of a thirsty man in a desert of stars swimming toward
a lifeboat on the horizon of a delirium of mirages
like an aviary of dead canaries at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Every insight into the nature of what I’m doing here,
my awareness arrayed before me like a well-soiled world
or a tree full of crows that know their way around
like undertakers of the occult in broad daylight
being chased off by smaller birds like pickpockets
seems like a seed of light embedded in the starmud
of a whole new world I won’t have time to explore on my own
like wildflowers in the starfields of what will bloom after me
and come to fruit on its own, by which, it’s been rightly said
a man is known, though he lie like a windfall of habitable planets
under his own bough, ripe, sweet, fulfilled, dead.

Thousands upon thousands of poems I’ve shed
like oracular eclipses written on the skin of snakes
like the fingerprints of emission spectra on the wavelengths
of first magnitude stars redshifting into old age
like apples on the low-hanging branches of the tree of life
more tempting than the bitter innocence of knowledge
that devastates itself like junkie hooked on his own amazement.

Not how I’m here, though that’s surrealistically
intriguing enough, but that I’m here at all in this dream
with these disembodied dream figures passing in and out
of awareness like swallows flashing by the windows,
gone by the time you turn the light around to look them in the eyes.
Constellations of fireflies exacerbating your astrolabe
like a shapeshifting model that won’t sit still long enough
to have her portrait done like the myth of someone’s origin
somewhere in the universe the stars aren’t fixed like a corrupt casino.

Submitted: Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Edited: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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