Were There Stars
Poem By Patrick White
Were there stars in your hair that night?
I cannot remember,
so taken with your face
and the mystery and the silence and the sorrow
of the tender bell in your eyes
that could summon ghosts
of yesterday's embodiments to the fire
of any passion that lost itself prophetically
at a rave of shadows among the trees.
You eased out of your wardrobe of rivers
like a snake on the moon
sloughing its skin like the eclipse
of a far more vulnerable shining,
and I couldn't tell if you were
a doe or a lynx
stepping out of the alder groves warily
to lap the moonlight
that flaked the shore
with the silver petals of an undulant rose
older and darker than night blood.
I could feel the danger within you,
the abyss of the early grave
that waited for you like a key
to come in out of the pain
that bled you like a shadow
pouring out of an open wound
that whispered to you like a secret scream
only the dead who owned you could hear.
Your hunger desperately sought salvation
from the eyes
that pleaded with you
to blow yourself out like a candle,
cancel the inevitability of your suffering
with the shudder and sigh of sex.
We lay down naked together
by the willow-stained waters
in that summer of flesh
and sought oblivion from each other
like two compatible cremations
that concealed a ravenous phoenix
ending its fast of fire.
Purified by the depth and darkness
of your intensities,
I burned in you
and felt the flames
of a dangerous angel
who had broken her afterlife like a curfew
flow over me
like dawn at a keyboard of feathers.
Your breasts still come up overnight
like supple mushrooms against my chest
and the moist heat of your mouth
throbbing with flowers like July
as you seized your joy
from the agony of the roots you tormented
to give up their dead
like bruised cherries.
I have never died as fully since
at the insistence
of any woman's appetite
nor known a night so final,
so brutal with time and beauty
as the pendulous moon swung
like an executioner's ax
over the nape of its own reflection
swanning on the waters.
We made love as if
we were both defying
the truth we didn't need to say.
I wanted to plead with you,
I wanted to call out into your emptiness
like a beseeching bird
disappearing into a dark valley,
but my voice ran ahead of its echo like light
and the things I would have asked you
not to do
had already been achieved.
Heroin, your asp,
at the funeral I stood back
beyond the baffled wreaths of flowers
and the ambivalent silence
of the modest gathering that mourned you,
maculate in the shadows
of the Japanese plum tree
we once made love under
and I kissed the rose of your blood
shedding in mine
like a wound
my love was never sword enough to heal
as they closed
and boarded you over like a well.
I spent the night like an empty vase
beside your grave
until the stars that bloomed above you like wildflowers
thawed my tears in the morning light.
I walked out of the cemetery
through the hard harps and spears
of its iron gates
and I have never been back.
The years since have been
chameleonic as a hooker
who plys her art
on the stairs of a temple
even the priests of my lust
are forbidden to enter,
but as you said I would
as you lay with me that night
like a knife beside the sea,
I have returned to you over and over again
like a witching wand
looking for water in hell,
like a cult of one to a lost island
that holds you like a secret
and wept like a candle of honey
in the dark hive of your unanswerable silence,
intoning the names
of an impossible god
on a rosary of black suns
until my heart hangs like a bell
dumb with grief
looking up at the stars
you rinsed like a tide from your hair.
And I lean on the crutch and the crook
of a shepherd's question,
looking everywhere for you
like the wind
sweeping the shadows of fireflies
like the fall of hair from your eyes
that night you tore yourself away from me
like a veil of blood and sorrows
wounded by the terrible light
of the black pearl
that ripened within you like the skull
of a full eclipse.
O my poor, broken angel,
you might have been fat and frumpy by now
if you had lived.
I could have watched your beauty
shed like the moon over the years,
and smile like an island
to remember how lost I was in your tides once,
a constellation of starfish
tumbled like dice in your dark undertow,
trying to shine, god, how
I tried to shine for you, how
I ached to embrace your planet safely
in the mandala of an empowering radiance
that could show you
I was worth living for
if nothing else.
Given the freedom
of the emptiness that engulfed us both,
we could have lived within each other,
we could have evolved our own atmospheres,
appointed our own stars,
written our own myths of origin
on the black pages of that journal of skies
where you scribbled down the events
of your pre-emptive afterlife
as if you wanted to make your ghost indelible.
As it was, the only thing I could do,
was take you in
like the last breath of a summer night
I could never let go of
without following it
like a shadow of you into death.
I haven't wished for much over the years,
and the dreams have come and gone as they will,
and my hair has gone gray
and my eyes are looped like powerlines
and the sad bells of a heavy solitude
that has yoked me to the grindstone of the turning world
to mill the stars like a tide
on the blood wheel of a worn heart.
I finally burned and broke all the weeping mirrors
I consulted like half-assed mediums
to see if I could restore you somehow
to the more intimate shining of that last night
you turned and ran back,
your shoes in your hand,
to make sure your final kiss would endure like a temple.
You pitied the agony of shapeshifting
you knew the black water ahead
was about to go through
as it smashed like goblets and crystal chandeliers
on the roaring skulls of the rocks.
You pitied me because you knew I loved you,
because you knew you were already
a future memory
and I was a prophecy from the past
that had ridden beyond itself like light
to illuminate nothing but your absence
measured in the filaments and lifelines
of eyeless oceans
like a seabird
circling a blind lighthouse on the moon.