Variation

“I sing myself.”
— Walt Whitman

“I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”
— Seamus Heaney

It’s so easy to lose yourself in all that’s going
On, the endless muddle of work and strife,
The chambers of social media echoing
Stale opinions, reality programs – this life
That serious experts on the TV news try
To reduce to – what? – something to be plotted
On a graph, an intersection of x and y.
Only that which can be counted allotted.
I resist it, push back against the stark
Black grid lines of their ledger that try to limit
What I can imagine for myself in the dark.
Their reason, devoid of rhyme, can only inhibit.
I open my eyes, my ears, my throat – I sing!
My rhyming self, irreducible, reverberating.

© Mark Milner, North Vancouver

The Simplicity Seekers

It is our sorrow. Shall it melt? Then water
Would gush, flush, green these mountains and these valleys,
And we rebuild our cities, not dream of islands.

— W.H. Auden

One day they found the place. Caught the bus
Downtown and rode it for over an hour
Through scarred and mansioned mountains
To the ferry dock, and rode the waves,
To an island just twenty minutes off shore.

Recognized it immediately,
As if they’d been there before (or maybe only
Dreamed it) – as if the place had always existed,
A region marked by the absence
Of ads for beer and deodorant,
Of the endless, repetitive bustle of work
And beggars on crowded sidewalks.

All of it familiar, the eagles hanging over the bay,
The slug-scrawled path, gold shining in the leaves.

They pointed things out to each other,
Drawing their plans in the air: there
Would be the naturally weedless garden where
Vegetables and herbs would seem to grow themselves;
And over there, the room where she would write
About the rigorous pleasures of rural life,
Where he would build a telescope,
Learn to play jazz; and the wrap-around porch
Where she would find a way to paint
The wind’s voice, and he just sit
And watch the sky turn.

Knew the place and knew
It was what they’d always been looking for.
Knew also the bottom line:

That there were no jobs
For them here, no stores to buy bread,
No place for them to stay.
That laundry would still have to be done,
Bills paid. That renting a dream
Costs even more than buying one.

A darkness settled into the leaves, and a chill
Crept over the wind from eastward.
The road sloped down the hill, back to the ferry,
And they slumped after,
Each step homeward a hesitation,

The way dreams linger
In the body falling back into wakefulness,

The way the waves pull back
Before resigning themselves to the shore.

 

© Mark Milner

Metaphysics

you’re not perfect

plato was right
it’s our flaws
that distinguish us

which is why you hate
the idea of clones
the individual erased
through repetition
transformed into ideal

to be distinct
is necessarily to be
imperfect

ephemeral
because beauty
has only one season
death the form
of perfection we fear
most

the buddha
realized perfection
could not exist
and made that his goal
prescribed selflessness
as the antidote
for life

you could
(like plato and buddha)
mourn your individuality

if only you didn’t enjoy
how fucked up you really are

if only you didn’t love living

 

© Mark Milner

Suite

for Adele

“Nunc scio quid sit amor” – Virgil

1.

strange how my memory
moves my hand moves
my pen on the paper and there
we are, caught in the lens
of a moment

focus:
walking beside the river
talking, trying to curl our tongues
around things we are afraid
to speak
until

(I know your type)
one slip, and the words
come spiralling down
caught in the momentum
of a vortex, and even fear
cannot stop their gradual descent
into the heart
of the matter
where

(I feel that way, too)
we two stand at the centre
of it all, words and the world
whirling around us, hardly
noticing how my hand moves
to hold you, or my memory
this moment

2.

Although it is winter, and the skeletons
in the front yard have dusted themselves
with snow, and the streetlights’ insomnia
is reflected all down the block
in the mostly black ice, and my shadow
has grown longer than the sun is up,

although my feet sink softly, and each
impression I make defiles
the near-perfect amnesia of the landscape,

and although my body, for the most
part, has ceased to feel
exactly how cold the world
has become,

I am peculiarly warm
tonight with the anticipation of your
body, and my every step bursts
with our wild green love.

3.

Wherever, now, I imagine your face
There is music. The “Moonlight” sonata,
“Round Midnight,” follow your image from place
To place like light, surround you like an aura
Or the halo in some renaissance painting
Of a saint.

Like now, as I imagine
You standing at the window and facing
Out into the such blue green afternoon,
Light bending around you, it is Cockburn’s
“Love Song” I hear, and thrushes swift the chords.

(Although it is night, and the full moon turns,
Without a rattle, to the deep reed horns
Of geese landing.)

And just there — Listen … See?
— Wrapped in moonlight is you, imagining me.

4.

my heart leaps awake
as now suddenly dancing
your eyes catch the light

you smile, ask me, “what?”
“nothing,” i say; and then, “now
i know what love is.”

thinking, this is what
poetry was always for:
choreography

of the heart’s dance,
words for translating “nothing,”
a sudden echo, light.

 

© Mark Milner

In Memory of Miles Davis

An obsidian Gabriel, taking his time
Out of time and reshaping it
In twists and curves
Of polished brass, until it emerged
Blown timeless from the bell.

At times, time would explode
From his horn as a fire
Red fury of notes,
At others would leak out soft
And linger, like a swirling
Cool blue smoke.

As he expanded on a Spanish concierto,
Sketched images of 52nd Street
Or perforated an old carol
With strangely appropriate arabesques,
Time, always, would bend with his breath
And wrap itself around the worlds
He created in both our minds,
Music in and out of time.

And those final phrases:
“Mr. Pastorius” coming to an end.
All that ceaseless upward striving;
Abandon, surrender, control.
Which seems even now to say it all.
Miles to go. Miles gone.
Leaving my time now with nothing
But echoes from a muted horn.

 

© Mark Milner