Meditation at Lost Creek

There are spots along the creekside path — if you can tune out
the highways’ hum, and overlook the pipe from the storm drain
spilling its effluent into the stream, and the plastic bag
caught in a tangle of tree branch reaching down into the water,
between the graffitied bridge supports and the signposts warning
against littering — where you can almost imagine what this place
would have seemed like a hundred, or more, years ago. The anglers
on the banks with their lines trailing in the current, the moss
hanging down from sagging trunks, the way that rock jutting up
from the creek bed snags the surface of the water and roils it
briefly before letting it pass. Walking here gives the mind space
to open, to branch out, drift in the current, allows time
for the mind to breathe in between the buds on the young branches,
a place for memory to grow in the shade beneath the trees.
Step. Step. Each one slightly different in measure, in tempo,
in pitch. The off-key deleted, like the drain pipe and the traffic
noise, the screeching of rails from above, leaving only
the whispered echo of the twenty-three Japanese rail workers
who died here, a little over a hundred years ago, according
to the plaque embedded in a stone along the creekside path.

 

 

© Mark Milner, Burnaby, 2020

Self Portrait

not as i am, but
the way i’d like to be seen
(by myself most of all)

any resemblance
to what you think you know
is just a tactic in support of that strategy

surprises couched
in the comfort of preconceptions

the bald head
and general roundness
somehow make the rest more believable

i never imagined he was
such an accomplished musician

the bass makes sense
he was always preoccupied with rhythm

and will you overlook the exaggerations
of my virtues
or at least forgive them
if i overstate my vices?

i will show them here
like a badge of honour
like scars from not yet rumoured duels

such honesty
you will say
so brave

not at all
i will say

and that will be the only truth i tell you here

© Mark Milner, 2019

Work

Voices in another room are speaking important
Meaningless words. Something about process,
Workflow, who needs to do what before some
Other thing can happen. I know all the words
But the sentences are empty. And I know
I often speak such empty phrases, too.
I’m not judging the speaker. It’s their job
To empty language of significance,
Reduce words to simple cyphers and glyphs,
Just as it is my job, when I am not
Trying vainly to accomplish the opposite.
The job of the professional versus
The job of the poet. The voices are calm.
They lack urgency. Schedules and budgets
Will shift, humans will be reduced to resources.
Tasks will be performed without personality,
And these words, these words will be forgotten.

 

© Mark Milner, 2019

poem

Last night I dreamed you were running
away. I chased after you
like a confused dog, followed
you through strange cities and airports.
I climbed the outsides of office towers and hotels,
searched libraries and salons. When I found you
alone in a café, you closed your notebook
(in which every word was goodbye)
and you stood without looking
at me, and walked away in silence.

When I woke, you were lying
beside me, dreaming
you were traveling alone.

 

© Mark Milner
Vancouver, 2019

Cosmology — fragments

say the world is filled
mainly with emptiness

gaps
between trees

space
between stars and planets
atoms and particles

tiny fragments
of presence
surrounded by absence

sounds break up silence
into song, measured and measurable
ordered on mathematical principles
numbered and arranged
in defiance of zero
of nothing
of space

vain desire that there be
something rather than nothing

lonely beauty of a dying star
on the remote edge
of a galaxy
a billion light years away
spinning and whirling
on the edge of annihilation
dancing and singing
its brief being
into the void

is it just a habit of mind
this conflict between something and nothing?
Manichaean tendency to believe
that everything requires an opposite?
polarizing instinct to divide
rather than blend?

say
we are atoms thrown defiantly together
we are particles cast out from stars
we are energy
time and motion

and when our time is done
cast off again
thrown together again
reused and recycled

old notes for new songs
new arrangements of old harmonies

in the end there is silence

that music had a dying fall
but does nothing follow?

the musicians put away their instruments
the audience departs, the hall is empty

say there will be other songs, other performances
other musicians and audiences

say each performance will be something new
or a remembrance of something that never was
and never will be again

maybe it’s a failure of imagination
that I don’t believe

in angels or gods, or
feel a connection to something beyond

that I don’t fill emptiness with purpose
suppose that planets have plans for me
or that they rest on spheres moved by celestial harmonies

that the inert remembers
the briefly living, that there is justice
more satisfying than dissolution

although I sometimes hope for a thread of memory
stitched into a corner of the fabric of time

I do not know how things begin
or end, or even if

or say
beginning and end are one and the same
seen from different angles

a lone whale sings her grief
to an almost empty ocean

in the middle of Ireland
stones still hold the shape
of an old church
carved and carefully stacked
into walls defying entropy
which has already claimed the roof
ruined the choir
where now even birds are not singing

other stones remember
lives no one recalls
history does not remark

only a fugitive cow grazes in the long grass
honeybees stir the pestles of wildflowers in the shade of a stone wall

and I have stopped to capture a moment in a photograph

how much longer will these stones cling to each other?
to the idea of order that placed them here?
how long can names and dates resist the wind and rain?

one year and eight hours away
I sat on the bench near my father’s stone
having cleared away the encroaching grass
and dirt that filled in the letters
of his name

and I spoke to him as if he were alive
spoke in a way I never did
while he was alive

I spoke as if he could hear me
as if it were a prayer

the wind stirred the leaves in the trees
and brought the rainclouds closer

somewhere a bird sang
a melody I couldn’t follow
and a hare stopped briefly
to consider my presence
then carried on with his day

 

© Mark Milner, Burnaby, BC, July 2019

Stones

In the middle of the city
a field of carefully arranged stones
is calling out.

One stone in particular
calls to me, calls
acoss mountains, calls quietly
as a whisper of wind in short prairie grasses
or snow leaning gently against fenceposts.

There are few of us here
tending to the stones, clearing
the snow and dead
overgrown grasses and cold
dirt from their faces.

Even though I have memorized the place
it still takes a few tries to locate the right one.
And then it is there.
My father’s name emerging, and the dates,

always surprising me
with how many years it’s been now.

The quiet of this place,
this field of stones, where names and dates
drift out of memory. How many years before this is all that is left of us?
Who will visit on a winter’s day
to brush the obscuring snow from our names?

We turn away from the thought.
I say goodbye to the stone.
I promise to return.

© Mark Milner, 2018, Vancouver

Loss in the supermarket

This poem grew out of a story my cousin-in-law (that’s a thing, right?) posted on Facebook. It stuck in my mind, as some things do, where it got reshaped (not to say warped) as everything tends to. This is for her, and her son.

Loss In The Supermarket

a woman and her young son
are in the supermarket
looking at steaks when the boy asks
are those dead cows?
and the woman answers, yes
and the boy asks
why are they dead?

before she can answer
a man nearby says, because they’re delicious

she doesn’t tell the boy this is wrong
or at least, not entirely right
she doesn’t tell him that everything dies
and some things that die are eaten
she doesn’t say that the cows were always
going to be food (and shoes and jackets and
baseball gloves) and that some people think that’s wrong and others think it’s delicious

she doesn’t say the cows
(and pigs and chickens)
only exist to be cut up and shrink
wrapped on styrofoam trays

she doesn’t say that someday she
will fade and fall like the leaves that litter
the lawns on their street, and that
so will he and so will his older brother
and their father, too

and everyone they know
who doesn’t come
to a more unseasonable end

she doesn’t talk about
the hospital where she works
about the overflowing cancer ward
that his grandfather has survived
twice now

she doesn’t say there is really no surviving
but only temporary reprieves

she hopes he will not learn this too soon

she chooses her steaks and smiles to him
should we buy ice cream for dessert?

© Mark Milner, 2018, Vancouver

The Ends of the Earth

“Borrowed time and borrowed world
and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”

– Cormac McCarthy

1

Asphyxia. Choking on smog, like soldiers in a forgotten war,
Fatal crack in the glass lens of the gas mask
After stumbling in the filtered light.

2

Not waving but drowning.
The dead seas rising to envelop us.
Skeletons reclining on plastic islands.

3

No hum of bees. No flowers vibrating
In the cool of the morning. The trees do not blossom.
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

4

…in a handful of dust. The farms have
Dried up and blown away, even the insects starving.
If only there were rain. Dull orange sun in a sepia sky.

5

After the thunder, silence. Negation
Deeper than absence of sound. And she ran toward me,
Burning, eyes staring, mouth open but unable to scream through the flames.

6

Ashes falling like snow
Blanketing bare tree branches, deep on the ground.
Long sleep with no waking.

© Mark Milner, 2018, Vancouver

Morning run

metronomic slap slap slap
footfalls like rain falling
wet on the pavement
hard to believe it’s almost six

pair of headlights
slip out of an alleyway
slither through a puddle
depart

and me in XTC
senses working overtime

and crossing the bridge
mind out over the water
heart up over the moon

it is only one step and then another and
another like words falling
wet on the pavement

hard to believe
hard to believe
it’s ten past six and almost home

© Mark Milner, Vancouver, 2018

Accounting

Who profits if you spend less than you save?
Sometimes survival’s as good as it gets.
What you do matters more than what you have.

Working day after day only to stave
Off risk of want means a life of regrets.
Who profits if you spend less than you save?

It’s the consonance between live and love
The banality of our daily life forgets.
What you do matters more than what you have.

The free man dies as surely as the slave.
Death is the final payment of our debts.
Who profits if you spend less than you save?

It’s a lie that fortune favours the brave.
Blind luck decides the outcomes of our bets.
What you do matters more than what you have.

You can live to work or work to live.
Whatever the balance, time always collects.
You might as well spend it all and not save.
What you do matters more than what you have.

 

© Mark Milner, 2018, Vancouver