It’s only money (revisited)

The other day I mentioned that it was time for my motorcycle’s scheduled maintenance, and that it was going to cost me a big chunk of money, which made me sad, but what can you do.

I’ve been using the same mechanic for about the past ten years. Part of the reason I continue to ride a BMW, and an old one at that, is that I’ve had a good relationship with a mechanic I trust. Or rather, trusted. Last year, that trust started to erode, with what I believed was the final straw coming on my last visit there, to have fork seals replaced and some LED brake lights I’d purchased for my top case installed. My assumption is that this should have taken two to three hours, max, based on what I’d read of both procedures. Instead it took more than five, and what should have come to a few hundred bucks cost me over $800.

So the other day I took my bike to a different mechanic, closer to me, who provided a much more transparent estimate of the work, very much in line with my expectations. Expensive, but what can you do, as I said the other day. When I dropped the bike off, I said to call me if any additional work was required. It’s an old bike – 15 years old, to be precise – and things wear out, sometimes not in accordance with the maintenance schedule. I fully anticipated some working needed on my rear brake – possibly new pads, but nothing extreme. They assured me they would call me regardless, and I hoped (expected) to pick the bike up yesterday after work.

Unfortunately, their inspection turned up a need for more than just new brake pads. Apparently the old pads had worn more or less completely away, and the rotor was damaged as well. Both would need to be replaced. As well, part of my gear shift mechanism was in danger of falling off, and would also need replacement. The part was on order, and should be delivered by Tuesday. Both of these items should have been, in my opinion, spotted at earlier and cheaper-to-fix stages at my last scheduled maintenance. But what really took the cake, for me, was that my fork seals – replaced last summer – were leaking and needed to be replaced. Again.

One other thing they turned up was less urgent, and could wait till a future visit. And it will. The three fixes that can’t wait are already doubling the cost I’ll be incurring when I pick my bike up next week.

All of which makes me wish I’d switched mechanics sooner rather than later. It may only be money, but I’d rather it was mine than my mechanic’s.

The Old Island Highway

Riding down the Old Island Highway –
Misnamed, a two-lane road
Winding through the trees – and the sun
Catching in the leaves
Turning as they fall, swirl
Down onto the Old Island Highway, leaning
Into a curve imitating the curl of shallow waves
Lapping at the stones
Along the shallow water’s edge,
And now the sun is dancing
On the water between the boats
At anchor, lines drawn in
And I draw my line down
Through the curve, lean down and catch
The sun falling down, dissolving
The Old Island Highway.


© Mark Milner – October, 2014, Vancouver Island

It’s only money

One of the more important aspects of owning a motorcycle is keeping it properly serviced. Not only does it make the bike run better, but it keeps it safer – by making sure the brakes, cables, tires, and so forth are all in good shape. This is important no matter what your riding plans are for the year, but it becomes even more vital if you’re planning a long trip, which is the case this year for me. Thus my bike is in the shop for its 60,000 km service.

In late June I will ride to Calgary, to meet up with my good friend, Scott. I’ll stop there for a day or two. Long enough to visit my old man’s grave, and probably hit Boogie’s burgers. From there, Scott and I will head through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, before crossing into the U.S., stopping in Minnesota before crossing back into Canada just west of Lake Superior. From Sault Ste. Marie, we’ll make our way to the Toronto area, and spend a few days there. From there, we’ll head to either Montreal or Quebec City, and again, spend a couple of days in La Belle Province. From Quebec, we’ll head back down across the border, through upstate New York to Erie, Pennsylvania, en route to Chicago. Apparently they have a U-boat in Chicago! And the Cubs! And great places to eat, drink, look at art, and not get shot. We’ll angle north from there, through Fargo, North Dakota, back to Canada, stopping in Moosejaw on the way to Calgary. After a day or two there – Boogies again! – I’ll make my way back to the coast.

All told, that should put approximately 10,000 km on the odometer, meaning I’ll be due for yet another service. A somewhat less expensive one than I’m getting done right now, although, I’m sure I’ll likely need tires by then.

Oh, well. It’s only money. Said no one ever.

Lit. Crit.

Having divided into camps,
And the camps having formed alliances,
We went to cacophonous war.
On the one side
On the other.  Each of us fuelled by pride
To remember always the dogma
And the enemy.

Caught out in no-man’s-land,
The poet, sprawling beneath the barbed wire,
Desperate to evade the crossfire
And defiant of every high command,
Refused to write to please
General Jacques or poor old I.A.
Beneath the moon, on hands and knees,
He scratched out his art whichever way
The impulse seemed to demand.
And ignorant of proprieties,
Or perhaps aware, he would compose
Sometimes a villanelle, sometimes intense prose,
Sometimes with rhyme and sometimes not.

But when morning came, and neither side had won,
We found the poet’s bones had been licked clean
By the dogmas of war, his poems nailed to trees.
And each of us seeing what we had done,
The fruits of our follies being quite plain,
In penance, we printed and praised the poet
In anthologies.  Then began fighting again.

© Mark Milner

in finite regress

because he was insignificant because his mind had been pulled apart like a wishbone because he could not bear very much reality because he had no imagination because he had little education because he was illiterate because he couldn’t understand what he read because love was a fourletterword because no one ever held him ever touched him ever said hello because he was a potential rapist because he drank beer because he masturbated without pleasure because he was ugly because he was poor because he couldn’t hold a job because he had no social skills because he was never part of a conversation because he had nothing to say because he didn’t know how to express himself because he didn’t know himself because he had no feelings because he didn’t know what to believe because there is no such thing as evil he went into a restaurant with a rifle and he killed every one who wasn’t like him until somebody shot him too because

@ Mark Milner


For Jeff Moffat

A metaphysicist met a physicist
Staring up at the sky.
Said the former to the latter,
I often wonder why
The heavens are so filled with stuff,
With galaxies and stars,
Rather than being empty
As the deserts found on Mars.
But then, I guess, there’s lots of nothing
There but empty space,
Light years of absence and entropy,
In which time will be erased.

The physicist smiled and shook his head,
And looked up at the moon.
There’s no such thing as nothing, he said,
Such talk is trop jejeune.
That black you see between the stars
That you call emptiness
Is full of energy and atoms
And things we’ve yet to guess.
There are more dimensions than are dreamt
In your  philosophy –
Or in my science, for that matter.
Come and sit in awe with me.

They sat a while, and neither spoke,
And the moon sank out of sight,
And the sun rose up behind them
And the hills were bathed in light.

© Mark Milner, Vancouver

The Crossing, DTES

an unrhymed anglosaxon sonnet (homage to Earle Birney)

Dawn downtown. Doorway dormants
bundled in blankets, begin to stir.
Stale piss-stench of streets, alleys reeking refuse,
punctuated by breadsmell from bakeries.

Clatter of trolleybuses, with clinging antennae,
as they creepcrawl westward, away
from this hell. Outside the library
the crowd starts queueing, claiming this corner,

domain of the damned. I feel like Dante
walking to work. But going unguided
among these Dis dwellers, dare not descend.

I turn the corner, prepared to pay
the ferryman’s fee, to forego fame,
and postpone Paradise this Monday morning.

© Mark Milner, Vancouver

The Map Of Love

I sat down to chart a map of love, but every place I looked
bore your name. Continents and mountains, streams and oceans,
deserts and forests all spoke only of you. The climate comprised
your moods – the occasional storm or sullen socked in fog
making the sunny days all that much brighter in relief.

I began to trace the coastlines, filled with natural harbours
where I had taken shelter, drawing out a calligraphy
that only you and I would ever read.

Over the years, the map has filled in with detail what was once unknown territory.
But look there – and there – you see? There is still so much left to explore,
to discover, so many places I will be happy to lose myself, as we find our way together.

© Mark Milner

Burnaby, 2015

You Want This Poem

You want this poem to be serious
And hold the correct opinions,
To flatten itself onto a placard
You can display at a protest march,
Affirming what you affirm, condemning
Whatever offends your sensibilities.
It offends your sensibilities to find the poem
In a night-club, sipping its third martini,
Getting excited by breasts
And laughing at off-colour jokes.

You want this poem to be holy,
A sacramental chant for the high holidays,
The kind of poem that goes by itself into the forest
Or the desert, and sits on a rock with its legs crossed,
Desiring neither to move nor to be moved.
It bothers you to come across the poem
On an ordinary weekday,
Wearing an old pair of jeans
And a thinning t-shirt,
Stealing the flowers from a public garden.

You want this poem to be better than it is,
To speak only the finest words
And think only the finest thoughts.
It’s just as well that you didn’t hear the poem
Saying ‘fuck’ in front of your children
As it watched your wife
Making up the bed in the spare room.
It would only have made you angrier
Than you already are, and destroyed whatever
Illusions you might still harbour about this poem.

© Mark Milner, Vancouver


Post-ethnic post

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. The majority of Canadians, regardless of their ethnicity, will pretend to be Irish today. Most will wear green. Some, alas, will drink beer dyed green. I am not Irish, although some of my ancestors were, if you go back far enough. Others were Scots, Welsh or English. I am none of those things. I am Canadian.

I do not say that out of patriotic pride, and I’m not in the least ashamed of the cultures and countries my ancestors hailed from. But they came so long ago now, I have no claim to their cultures. My Irish ancestors, for example, emigrated here sometime in the 18th or 19th centuries. I’m not even sure which. Was it my maternal grandmother’s parents or grandparents who sailed across the Atlantic? Or was it their parents, or their grandparents? I don’t know. I’ve heard that the Irishness, or at least the Catholicism, still clung to my great-grandmother, who I never met, but my own grandmother had no hint of it. My mother, her sister and brothers had none, either.

Similarly, on my father’s side of the family. Tradition has it that my grandfather’s roots were in Scotland. But he was born in Nova Scotia, with an English name (albeit one that is not uncommon in Scotland), and I have no idea how many generations preceded him. He didn’t even give a strong sense of the Maritimes, never mind of Scottishness. My father liked bagpipe music, and scotch, but he also liked Southern Gospel, jazz, blues and country music, so what does it really tell you?

Some North Americans cling to the cultures of their ancestors – whether Polish, Chinese, Indian, or whatever – long after I would have thought it still mattered. In some cases, this likely stems from growing up in enclaves – Italian neighbourhoods, or Greek, for example. When everyone you meet hails from ‘the old country’, traditions are more likely to be preserved. Language is one of the motivations for such enclaves. It’s hard to learn a new language, especially when you’re older. And English is one of the more difficult to pick up, being so full of inconsistencies and irregularities.

As time goes on, though, ethnic identity becomes more or less notional. Children grow up as Canadians, even if, in some cases, they still look Asian, or Italian, or Nigerian, or Swedish. But they cease to be those things. Generation by generation, they become part of the fabric of Canadian, and it in turn becomes part of them. Intermarriage hastens this. In my opinion that’s a good thing, although I may be biased, having married a woman who immigrated from Belgium at a young age, and whose own ethnicity was a blend of Flemish and Algerian, although after 50+ years here she is at least as Canadian as me. Maybe moreso. Certainly, she is more patriotic.

So, on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be just as Irish as my fellow Canadians, wherever they or their ancestors hailed from. No more than any, and much less than some. You can keep the green beer, though. I’ll have a Guinness, thanks. Slainte.