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Saying Goodbye to Milton Acorn

Francis Edward Sparshott
From:   Sculling to Byzantium. 1989.

You thought you were fishing—
the creek in a spring spate, angry with clay,
clawed the green turf.
You turned to the reaching arms, the white mouths,
your head went under. One last lingering drink
on the rocks--you were heading south
under the storm winds, for a long bask
on an unfamiliar beach, in torn jeans.

That wasn't you. It was somebody's lost son,
no one we know. One hears of such things
on radio, fragments of news. What made me suddenly
think of you, Milton? Think of that morning of slush
on the Queen car, swung from the same pole
between John and Spadina? One of your worse days:
your jaws were a red brick broken with fire
and your teeth a terrible henge
round the black hellgate harrowed with holy rage.
We shouted our greeting as the crowds churned.
It was your stop. You swung down to the broken snow.

On what night's news . . . ? When, where did I learn
of the storm-caught drifters lost every year
to the North Sea? Turned back, they founder,
broach instantly to, rolled over,
swathed in their torn nets. So the rest go on,
stem to the wind, while the ice builds,
sheeting the deck, making a long pearl
of the gunwale. Blown spray blinds them
to the crystal mast rigged in a glass web.
The craft dips deeper into the weight of the waves.
They go on, into the gale, ready for what they know.
If this wind holds, ice takes them under.
None living has seen this: none to recall
how in the midst of their useless catch
the crews went down
under their brilliant burdens.
Only the airs may change, the mild sun prove
more than a rumour. An unlikely story.

On one of your better days
you told us your dream, Milton: resting your rage,
left the Americans and the millionaires
conspiring together (as they always did),
closing a branch plant (as they always would),
cheating the workers (as they always will)—
let them get on with it. Your bellowing frenzy
died like a mad typhoon. It was your own voice
smiled gently at your dream.
There were elephants in that dream,
lurking and hiding among the bushes
round the Garden City Dairy. Elephants leaving
little obscure notes
on leaves. But oh, what fires
burned in your reddened eyes!

Not as we can, Milton, but as we must,
heading into the storm till the storm drags us under,
ice on the anchor chain, ice in the shrouds,
deaf to the wind's thin singing, thick with cold:
we are not to be heard from again
Under our feet, under the pitching steel
glazed for our downfall, is the harmless home
of the quite ordinary fish
that catch and are caught in their still darkness.
We plunge toward them. The numbing carapace
is heavier when we rise.
If the wind falls, if the sea turns quiet,
I will learn carpentry at your side,
chipping our boats free under the blue heaven.

But there is no use talking, Milton, we know that,
your gale and mine come of a stubborn weather,
ice fills its breath. You kept your face to the wind
and are gone. I am in place,
waiting my own turn, with a heavy head
ready to be sucked down
under the same grey sea,
like you, injured and happy.

Francis Edward Sparshott's works copyright © to the author.

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