Sometimes The Clarity Comes Too Late

Poem By Patrick White

Sometimes the clarity comes too late
to realize there was never
any need for forgiveness
and nothing to expiate
about the way we made our gracious farewells
into works of art
that would go on hurting forever.
We had a genius back then
for making death seem more beautiful than it is
because we lived on the edge of things
and not their surfaces
and o if we'd only felt all those things
that made us weep at the end
dying in doorways that were more cruel
than any threshold we had to cross to stand there.
If only we could have felt those immensities of good-bye
from the very beginning
what reason would we have had to cry like candles
when the wine turned back into water
and the roses wiped their lipstick off on their leaves?
One goes out.
One goes in.
Because severance
no less than the dance
takes two to make a difference
and as the years go by
the silver flakes off the memory of the mirror
and you can see clear through to the other side
experience is just another log
you throw on the stars
to keep yourself warm on a cold October night
by a small fire out in the open
where it's easier to sublimate
the intensities of fate
by opening the cages you keep them in
and burning your loveletters
like the flightfeathers of half-forgotten songs
to spread their wings in the flames
and give them the freedom to rise higher
than the nest of ashes they were born in.
History isn't the muse
the immeasurable mystery is
and if you don't learn to let things go
you'll never know
how to live lyrically alone in the wild
unbounded by your solitude
by the side of a river whose flowers are dying.
The green bough hisses and blisters in the fire
but the cracks in the heartwood
burn far into the night
and give off way more heat in the autumn
than the pre-emptive lightning strikes of spring.
It's a rite of passage as old as migrating geese
mournfully bearing souls south
whose bones have turned to dust
to take all my prophetic skulls like moon rocks
out of the house of the dead
and arranging them into the ring of a firepit
stand in the middle like the eternal flame
of an unrepentant heretic
to rekindle the dance
even among the skeletal shadows
of a persecuted romance.
Even in sorrow.
Even in the silence
of the great distances
that add their aerial perspective to time.
Not to call ghosts back to a seance
as if they could tell me anymore about death
than I've already lived through
but every year at the second full moon in October
after the harvest is in
and the scarecrow has come down off his cross
and left it to the ravens of nevermore as a church
I lay a blue violin on a funeral pyre.
I stretch my heart out like a skin on a drum.
Dressed in the plumage of solar flares
I enter a trance of firebirds
that have long since disappeared back into the sun
and like Icarus in eclipse
or the last grasshopper
who didn't take the advice of the ants
to drag the leaves and wings of things
piecemeal into a shelter
to prepare for deeper separations yet to come.
I take my chances by the hand out here in the open
and I dance.
I dance with heresy.
I dance with the angels and the demons
that were martyred in the name
of what is unforgiveable about my human nature
and yet more sacred than the rain I dance for
to put the war I dance for out.
I dance with whole asylums of noetic visionaries
who went insane
trying to explain me to myself
like the origins of life on another planet.
And I dance again to the music of the women I've loved
whether in pain or bliss
whether I was hung by the tail
like a plague rat over the abyss
of my cannibalized emotions
like a famished snakepit
or I fell sidereally under the spell
of the fragrance of summer stars in their hair
I dance not as if it were all worth it in the end
but something inestimable to celebrate
that gives the chartered undertakers pause
about what they do for a living
when they see how a poet can dance
to the picture-music of the crazy wisdom
that sings the dead up out of the earth to their feet
without looking down from the mountaintops
or back at the valleys behind
to take the measure of their heart
to see if it's empty or full.
I let the new moon
feel the old moon's arms around it again
like the bright vacancy and dark abundance
of what's joyfully absurd and playful about life
whether it's doing a sword dance with words
or dancing in blue heron feathers
like a shaman among waterbirds
longing for enlightenment
like a tantric star map
to break the jinx of their prayer-wheels.
Or dancing to bullets like a greenhorn
in the main street of nineteenth century Dodge
or like me out here in the country dark
alone with six thousand visible stars
eleven miles outside of Westport
spreading my wings under the sign
of the Eagle and the Swan going down in the west
to add my phoenix to the feathers of the burning sumac
and grabbing the lightning lance of the thunderbirds
like a serpent from their talons
hold it up to the stars to the east and the west
like the wavelength of a crazy insight
into the dark word of the living light
that makes me dance my way
out of time
out of place
out of my mind
without leaving anyone or anything behind.

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