Sickly Bedtime Approaches / new poems by Matthew Milia

Inside the Larynx Metaphor

I could have guessed you’d cook the asparagus for dinner—
the spears popping in oil
as if the night
and ventless kitchen inside the night
and even the droplets
of your own after-work breath
were somehow fiercely carbonated

reminding me for some reason
of the Pepsi I’d suck from warm cans
through Twizzlers for straws
on Nana’s davenport.

I could have guessed.

And if I try hard enough
I can also predict
how tomorrow will go—

(it’s just that I like to keep all wonder
and disappointment
a perfect surprise)

but what the heck—

tomorrow I will park an ailing car
in various parking lots of gourmet grocery stores
and survey for free samples;

I will count the pay-by-hour motels
and grandparent boneyards
skirting Woodward Avenue;

I will notice the beautiful
bone structures of unkempt
bus-stoppers displaced
at the first outposts of affluent suburbs,
the bus-stops themselves displaced in the sun’s
inescapable fever and

I called it.

Asparagus and licorice—
my metaphors are slipping

but why shouldn’t they

with everything else?, as

sheet cakes in the station wagon’s rear
shift wildly to the swerving course,

as the world
slips off-kilter
whether aged in dog years
or milk carton

Hey, listen—
the larynx of the late-day June dog
soupy and ferocious,
mechanically no different than the waxy blade of grass
rushed with a flatulence of breath,
affixed between two childhood thumbs

like goal posts pinched together,
a conduit between the power plug tines:

that’s what a bark is and that is the trick
with the grass. One in the same.

Or what do I know?

Perhaps I’ve lost too much in approximated simile.

Conflating this and that to force the sense
that a clearly defined one thing
can perfectly conjure another
thing altogether,
naked in the doorway.

It’s just—
I only wanna taste the beer
as it is
hot and sweetly stale inside your mouth

and see the TV
as it was

bounced a sickly blue
from the surface of your cheek
when the night is carbonated
with the immense singular pressure of what was, 
is, and will be


Retired dads
walk the end-stage family dogs
through the early afternoon
post-rain neighborhood


you drink the coffee
of the present tense
from the

re-gifted to you
his final sip.

Your dad's having his gallbladder
removed tomorrow
and you have to Google how serious
of a thing
that is.

The coffee—
and the mugs or bladders
it warms in its
course, it seems—

is all simply borrowed.

And then not so much dispossessed
as it is

Is there any point in asking anymore:
where to?

I once believed in the sacred map
smeared by paper cuts—
wetted by the dreamy breaths
of early-life yawns

to help relocate these things
once they've strayed.


Turns out that gallstones are made
mostly of cholesterol and I wonder
if my dad will get to keep his—
in some junk-drawer of his workbench
next to a souvenir baseball
we brought back
from Cooperstown

When the phone has not rung for months
and even the sounds of summer birds
have a distancing effect—

like a spinning ambulance whir
endless goodbye—

there is only a half-hope that remains:

that, like our old cocker spaniel
tuckered-out hours after
his escape,

these things shall return to us
in small
almost unnoticed miracles

like the mug—
like the galaxy of stones
calcified through our processes of

It all wanders back
by its own dumb

Soccer Storm

In the wind tunnel of your orgasm
my world deafens between the cushy tornadoes
of your calves and thighs.

This isn’t so much a poem about sex.

It’s just where I happened to be, gratefully,
at the moment when I realized
things’ll probably be alright.

Whose mind doesn’t drift a little during it—
with so many half-thoughts and hot feelings
bubbling up like a very specific
coffee pot?

In the thick of it I shot back to soccer tryouts,
with all my bowl-cut competition sitting on different models
of heavy-duty plastic water thermoses.

I remembered how terrifying it was to live
in that early collision of confused masculinity,
with teeth like a bunny rabbit, and nothing short of
the world’s entire purpose at stake.

In my dreams I kept showing up to practices
fully dressed and eager to give it my all—
despite having been cut from the team
and the coach staring down my unnecessary presence
so quizzically and cruelly.

In my dreams I still arrive
with everything to prove
as if mom and dad are always watching,
desperately, from some parked automobile
of make and year
I am ashamed.

In this coffeepot, pity and redemption steam
at the exact same terrible

But the fact remains:
the specifics we fret over most
matter the least,

the coaches die in car accidents
or as broken old men
and we are still pre-teens in a meaningless sprint

but then again, that’s not completely true—is it?

As the mind wanders back across drunkenly-sprayed goal lines
of the endless tournament
we squint something welcoming and raw
in the gathering storm.

Face Time

On a shattered iPhone 5 I left behind who-knows-when
my mother FaceTimes me the lilacs
growing in my father’s backyard
like an entrance to their own museum.

They say lilacs are not overly aggressive
in their spread—they tend to grow mainly
where human settlements are
or were.

Bless them to pieces
for remaining
where we lost all heart to remain

Bless their beauteous stubbornness—
their oversexed showiness
their resilience to the quiet traumas in the homes
they shadow.

My mother was briefly a journalist before having me
and she now reports the world’s sex drive
to me solely via direct feed, live on location but
unaware that she is tethered
to the Wi-Fi in the house
so as she deepens in the yard
nearing the blossoms
pixelating in dusk—
in a chalky nectar
I can virtually

I lose her right before
she reaches the bush.

This is a sufficiently futuristic
future from where we began,
I think.

The future should feel like a splintered screen
looking in on all the world once

Poem Written Next to You in a Van Out West

Heaven's no longer the greased-up slide
chuting me into
cloud reenactments of
early overbite comfort

no, I think heaven is

discussing with you
what we should fix for dinner
through humid smiles
in our near-future kitchen
covered in Wednesday and

and then a walk to the corner for beer
past all the loitering galaxies
of summer dusk

and I know this exact scenario
has yet to occur precisely
but give it a week or two
and then
after that
give it our two lifetimes combined
and I promise the potentiality
will contain nothing short
of the world's very purpose:

your fingertips like door-keys.

In the freckles and inky pinpricks
of night—
in the codes of your muscular twists
and the wet constancy
of your dark grinning pupils—
each night presenting our home
in a new shape
of the same unalterable material.

Trouble eaten down
to a silly pit and kicked
into the garden.

The miracle of your love's
constant looping return

finding me at the sink
and pinching my waist

in the only moment we'll ever

Constant Bedtime


In the cellular phone showrooms now gutted into cubbyholes
summer retires—

for summer is now a system of holes
waiting to be stuffed with travel soccer newsletters, phone numbers for guitar lessons
torn like hangnails, parishioner donation envelopes with windows of smeared vellum,
pizza coupons announcing two-for-ones that never arrive,
instructional pamphlets on how not to
readjust one’s own

on how to check one’s breasts monthly
in a circular

in these storefronts of the semi-modern plazas
summer hopes to
suck the night clean
though cinder block burnt like toast.

I saw the children in the vestibule,
cross-legged around the bottle return,
attempting to count the number of nights
spinning sickly above us in broken durations

not noticing the crazed bagger
fingering the light switch
with nothing to lose.

Have you seen the entrances to these chambers
strung up in uncoiled wires of orthodontic retainers,
caved in by 3-ring binders
that flicker loose leaf like horny tongues?

Did you crawl beside me,
into the budget motel banquet hall
where the marooned wedding DJ
took requests for every sadness
birthed by some mother or another—

that is to say, one for all of us,
of course. Yes, no one
is aging well and
rent is due.


Some things ride
the drop in temperature
back to this place
every year
like a vehicle—

perhaps a station wagon we were proud of
before the babysitter’s boyfriend
had his way with it.

I cannot hear the wind tonight—
somersaulting blankly through elms,
fresh from liquor lotto stores
primed to land in any congregation—

without picturing a mouth
without feeling a stomach
pitted and turning over
like the only muffler on the road
at this hour.

At 2:45 AM
I heard the woman’s maniacal sandals clacking,
opened the drape to find her tipping over
below me—

frozen in her tipping,
devastated by lamplight,
perplexed by an intersection of streets

blowing into the night
as if wishing to challenge
September’s return in

a race to fill the empty pop cans
of the world
with cold air whether
from lungs or river.


He’s a wreck without his full 8 hours,
without several inland lakes of coffee;

he’s a wreck if his mother has called too many times, too early—
and even more so if she hasn't called at all.

Something is looping like a DVD menu—
some feeling
like the emergence of egg shells
in the birthday cake batter.

A perfection that is just barely at fingertips,
at tongue tips
and pencil tips.

There was, for so long, a sweet rubbery stench
of back-to-school supplies
always in the janitor closets
of my internal organs,

in my armpits and
sock drawer.

But now
in constant bedtime, a dog is barking
at all hours. From where
can such ceaseless aggression find its source—
puttering in and out
again and again like a dial-up modem?

Today the wedding DJ was a different man,
but the same? Lurking in a long stretch limo, the color
of eggshells beneath fingernails, the color
of addresses smeared opaque in the waxy windows of student loan envelopes—
the uncanny rotation of life’s extras,
bit characters screeching brakes of sadly semi-dated rides
in orbits around my dad and I, where we hid

in sunflowers, ice cubes, and the smoke
of summer’s final

Is there a shame in still feeling protected by one’s father?
I go inside.

I grow turgid within the incessant barking,
in cars passing by forever, revving violently—half of me
apparently always doubled over in dishwater.
But I wilt in my mother’s voice, the opposite
of barking—as she
starts up again to summarize Greek dances at Ms. Radio Shack pageants, or
the way Pappou would char the edges of ground meat
purposely, or informercial hacks to miraculously clean a pan
blackened by ungodly heat
like the burnt cinder blocks through which the summer sucks
its breath in storefronts of

There is a sweetness here,
a stickiness of cottonwood fiber gooping windshields
and crabapple holes mealy and agape to be stuffed
by yellow-jackets and fingertips; there is
a sweetness in my mother’s missing tooth and
the holes of parental stories—something so close to perfect
in how they humor my motions and strange age
that by the time they are gone,
my father of smoke and
my mother of syrup,
it holds me over. The murderers conspiring in
lamplight corners bark and bark
but can’t get


I was born with cheap
plastic-mold Little League trophies
for bones. The flimsy
tee-ball bats and figurines
stretched my skin into delicate

They branched out and splintered
in tendons of Scotch tape and
dental floss.

Praying that consuming parental coffee all day
was some alter-universe form of immense hydration,

I’d wake sensing all my problems
cobbled together in two-by-fours,
wrapped by the wires of old orthodontic retainers—

easily undone
but a nuisance nonetheless.

I’d think,
I’ll manually adjust my vertebrae
until the world seems a bit more
correctly on course.

When the world reveals its nature
bit by bit
to you in your youth—
in warm foreign surges in your bloodstream or
the way you smell a color
before knowing the neighbor is burning leaves
in the yard behind
at dusk—
you don’t know whether
to celebrate
or mourn
the news.

The worst part about trophies
is the year being engraved
right there on it
and as the year distances
the accomplishment
ages pitifully. All monuments,
whether of accomplishment
or disaster,
take on eventual
twisted meaning.

The only black kid on the street’s
dad invested in an etching machine
and made a business in his basement
customizing the little metal plates
for tee-ball banquets and bowling leagues
up at Sylvan Lanes.

in the trophy engraver’s driveway
I made a free-throw on the cockeyed hoop
and the trophy engraver’s son,
teasingly surprised, said
somebody ate their Wheaties this morning—
he was
at one point
my only friend.


I've cried trying to pin the origin story
of a certain item of food in the fridge—
how it wasn’t from the most recent trip to the store
or even the one before that
but some other one, somehow months ago now
on a pitifully specific day that seemed absolute
in its sense of permanence,
in the way the sky was like dark hair upon exiting,
in all its ways that return, laughably, now
vacuumed into that little tub from the olive bar. 

Sometimes I cry in the vague remembrance
of my dad coming to teach my Boy Scout troop
how to tie sailing knots in the empty cafeteria after school.

He had prepared by tying different lengths of rope to a board
and I can’t remember what grade or year it was
or in which run-down car of ours he drove us home—

but whatever love is
I know I harnessed it, wholly,
in the age of knowing
without knowing.

Sometimes I cry because I can’t cry
when I feel I should cry most.


The guitar teacher would make house calls
for our lessons
after the local shop closed.

He smelled the way clothes smell worn by
people who’ve just smoked a cigarette
and though I knew the smell
I didn’t associate it with cigarettes
because it doesn’t smell quite like an
actively lit cigarette
but kind of sweet
like grandfather breath
or off-limit rooms
or other things I only sort of

Mom would offer him a Rolling Rock
and he said it was his
favorite beer.

What are the chances?

He followed me into my room once
to hear some songs I wanted to learn
from my new CDs
through my new stereo—

these things that reminded me of Christmas
all-year round,

of feeling embarrassed by only-child bounty
with mom’s threadbare

Like clots through the happy vein
guitar teachers and cocker spaniels
and mom in her housecoat
we all swished through
the slender hallways of that

The moderately more well-off friend
opening a coat closet,
expecting a basement,
and inquiring

this is it?

he later found a drug habit,
car accidents and

but he never found
our secret basement—

the machine in which
sickly bedtime