Stones

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

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

There are few of us here
tending to the stones, clearing
the snow and the 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 snowy 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 forgetful 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

Tabula Rasa

1
Arvo Pärt at 36,000 ft.
The voices of the strings weave
Through the air, rise and fall, play
Against each other.

Outside, the clouds
Mingle and separate, fall away
Beneath us, behind us.

Just as time
And music fade
Into silence.

2
To live without expectation,
The future as a blank slate,
To engage with what comes
As it comes
In its own time.

Trying to imagine that.
Knowing that we expect the future
To resemble the past.

The batter looking for a fastball
Doesn’t recognize the change up, and swings through it, surprised.

3
The point where the patterns intersect,
The point where the patterns disperse,
Here the mind is free to play.

Fullness and emptiness have the same rules.

Your plans cannot escape these rules, or contain them.
This is the first rule.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t acknowledge the rules.
This is the second rule.

4
I never expect the face in the mirror.
Recognize it, of course. Know it’s mine.
But it surprises me every time
Like a note played off key
Or an off-speed pitch.

5
The difference between knowledge and expectation:
We all know we will die. And yet death arrives unexpected.

The number of times I watched my father’s head
Move through shades of red and purple
As he coughed at the dinner table, then lit a cigarette.

And yet it was years later, and something else entirely.
I watched him slip quietly into Silentium, all the machines switched off.
I was utterly unprepared.

 

©  Mark Milner, 2017