The Anniversary Party

They descended the stairs into the room.
The waiters led them to their seats. The other guests were already there.
Everyone dressed for the occasion, whatever it was.
Reflections from the lights danced in the water glasses.

They had been the last to arrive. The other guests were already there.
The table was long, and they sat far from each other.
Reflections of light danced in the water glasses.
He did his best to keep up with the conversation around him.

It was a long table, and they sat so far from each other.
He couldn’t see who she was speaking to.
He did his best to keep up with the conversations that moved around him.
Every now and then he heard her laughter from where she sat.

He couldn’t see which of the men she was speaking to.
He couldn’t hear anything that either of them said.
Every now and then he heard her laughter from where she sat.
He kept wishing the dinner would be over.

He couldn’t hear anything that she or the man said.
It was impossible to determine how she was feeling.
He just wanted the dinner to be over.
He hadn’t really wanted to come tonight anyway.

He could never really tell how she was feeling.
They didn’t speak about things like that.
He hadn’t even wanted to come here tonight.
Things hadn’t been quite right between them lately.

She said she couldn’t tell him how she was feeling.
Something always made her hold back.
Things hadn’t been quite right between them lately.
He couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

Something was making her hold back.
He had a growing but vague sense of unease.
He couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
It felt like something or someone was dying.

He had a vague but growing sense of unease.
They descended the stairs into the room.
It felt more funereal than celebratory.
They were dressed for the occasion, whatever it was.

©  Mark Milner, 2017

The last words

are for Sava Welsh
who made the best Spanish coffee in the New World,
who gave the shirt literally off his back to a woman because she said she liked it,
who worked with me in the bookstore on Robson Street for most of the thirteen
months I’ve been there,

who worked there for over twenty years,
who used to disappear every Sunday at quarter to five, as he said, “like a donkey in
the fog,”
who would not let even his dead mother in once the place was locked,

who bought me lunch at Griffins the Friday before he retired (we had duck and smoked salmon and desserts that would make a marxist cringe, and
Sava ordered himself a Spanish coffee, telling the waitress, “this could kill
me”),

who used to call me “my hero” — I don’t know why,
who nursed his lover of over twenty years until he died last November, after more
than two years of sickness,
who thought the card I bought him when Victor died was beautiful (thank you,
Robert Mapplethorpe) and the poem I quoted, too (Langston Hughes),

who retired on a Tuesday in February,
who called me from the back hallway half way through his last shift to show the bag
full of blood he had coughed up,

who smiled when the nurse in the hospital asked me if I was his son,
whose liver had been shot for years,
who kept living, I think, for Victor,

who called me from home on a Tuesday evening in March to say he was feeling
much better and was going to fly to Europe in April and would come to see
me before he went away
who died on the Wednesday of the following week,

who died nearly two months ago now,

who we drank to a month ago in the bar at Griffins, almost without mentioning his name, and I went home thinking Sava, Sava, Sava,
who disappeared like a donkey in the fog, although I still think about him sometimes, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays.

These last words are meant to remember him.
They are not enough.

 

© Mark Milner, Vancouver 1997

Tremor

you wore a dress like moonlight
your eyes shone black, you did not speak

i wrapped myself in your hair
i sang like the wind in the leaves

together we made the sea dance
the clouds hid our names

you touched me like a rumour
of spring,

I shook the seismologists
from their quiet dreams

 

© Mark Milner

Nightlife

1.

Now that you are home
Safely another night
And the window’s closed and locked
The door bolted and chained, and the world
Outside — with its sirens,
Floods, wars, murders, poverty
And all the rest of the usual
Catalogue — is no more
Than the unreal space between
Commercials for beer and deodorant;

And I’ve stopped chain-smoking,
And the newspaper lies
In the recycling box,
Already fading;

And the old man
Upstairs has stopped screaming
At the cars in the alley
To shut it off
Or get the hell outta here;

Now that the coffee’s been drunk,
The dishes done, bath water poured,
And the day’s work unwound;

Now I will lie down in bed
And listen to quiet
Water splashing on breasts, and wait
For the lights to be shut out, for you
To join me, for sleep
And something like healing.

2.

To the occupants, apt. 107,

Your energy
If not your duration made
Me jealous last night.

Your short-lived grunts
And wails (sounding
Like you were just outside
On my balcony) had me
Blushing in my bed.
I couldn’t help myself,
I put down my book and
Listened while you lasted.

Then turned out the light and
Tried to sleep. Too tired to attempt
An echo.

Sincerely,
Apt. 209

 

© Mark Milner

Lament

it would be nice
maybe
never to doubt
meaning
think about things
self included

to unwavering
as a razorblade
nevermind What if? or regret

things before
they possibly never
happen

to just happen
like trees or earthquakes
not counting
nickels every second
thursday

i’d like never wondering how the
rentphonehydrostudentloans

and these socks all got holes
and these jeans in the knees from
When is my 50 cent raise?

it must
be i mean just to know yes
i’ll have another
beer keep the change
i think
nice

 

© Mark Milner

Ratio: signal to noise

Hieroglyphs
Rattling in the vaulted dome,
Words, characters
Strange voices
In the temple
Clamouring for audience.
Listen.
This is what happens.

Waking to sound of glass
Alarm maybe gunshot
Must be shooting
A movie. Absurd.
This time of night.
And next morning boarded up
Shop, yellow police tape stretching, do not cross.

This is what happens.
In the beginning, a fire in the head.

And the Chabad House of Kitsilano,
10 min. by bus from the university,
Burned out, awning in tatters, graffiti
On the window melted, scorched
Poster: Let’s Welcome Messhiach

And this seen from the bus,
No questions asked and
Nothing in the papers.
Unnoticed by others or
At least no one says
Anything, just keeps talking
About

David’s house on the weekend it was so cool
you should’ve been there we smoked a couple of joints and
went down to the beach and started a fire and
Johnny took off all his clothes and screamed
LAST ONE IN and some of the others followed
even Jen and they all screamed the water was so cold and no
not me I stayed at the fire with Sean and we laughed and
then the cops came and poured out all our beer
and

So on
Till Yew Street, getting off
Two stops early just to be alone
With a headache
Again and still
Moving all that helpless smoke
Of words
(Ashes, ashes . . .)
Smudging.

© Mark Milner

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