"In the Officers' Mess"

by Alden Nowlan

The cellophane-wrapped young technocrats,
most of them graduates in engineering, have had one beer each,
have applauded the old general with the fingertips of one hand
have smiled and said goodbye in the tone of voice used
by barbers and dentists when working on small children and
by almost everybody when addressing a drunk.

The romantics too have gone in their scarves and berets
and with six or eight ounces of good scotch in their veins,
but they'll be back after they've jogged their four miles.
The general has shaken hands with all of us, a man possessed of
that humility that sometimes truly beautifies near-senility.

So right now this place belongs to the third component
of the Canadian officers ' corps: the roaring boys from places like
Burnt Coat, Economy, Widower's Mountain,
Virgin's Cove, Sally's Tickle and Desolation Creek,
who express love by emptying their tankards over
one another's heads, do Parachute rolls off the tables,
dance on broken glass and do imitations of Harry Hibbs
singing Newfoundland songs about Belfast.

Later the romantics will come back, wearing sweatshirts,
to down three or four more doubles and refight with bottles,
tumblers, matchboxes, cigarette lighters and swizzle sticks
the battles named on the regimental flag.

—and those of us who haven't flaked out will watch and listen
to them with that rapt expression that comes to
the faces of drunken men in the presence of something
they can't fully grasp but know to be of vast importance.

In the Officers' Mess, by Alden Nowlan, was published in the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown Junior Officers Journal, Edition 2, Volume I, June 1975, it was later republished in the INFANTRY NEWSLETTER, No 5, Summer 1976