Poem Written After Visiting the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick, Cumbria (I Want to Love You)
I want to love you in a way that’s absurdly grand and impossible in its dimensions, the way I imagine some superhuman sonneteer might heft the world’s largest pencil off the wall from under its official Guinness World Record plaque and hew cosmic-sized sentiments in the earth’s beaches and red deltas, his words gouging up bees in amber and fossil thumbs of prehistoric lovers. I want to love you the way the boy Ben Franklin discovered he could sail himself across a lake with a paper kite tethered to a string between his knees. I want to stipple a sky of yellow kites above you with a landscape painter’s ease. I want to love you the way God paged Florence Nightingale under a tree in Embley Park, a simple summons to a lifelong quest—or the way Saturday eases into Sunday, beginning with a touchdown pass in the Alabama-Arkansas game and ending with a trio of house finches arranged on the feeder like laughter and its afterthoughts. But because love is no longer stylish and because I have come right out at the beginning and said I want to love you in so many amplified ways, perhaps a nervous impatience alone will stop people from reading the rest of this. Because I have used simple language and sought to be understood perhaps no one will call this poetry. It is precisely because I have not pretended to be writing from Tuscany or camouflaged my feelings behind wry allusions to pop culture or obscure 19th century Polish philosophers, because I have not wrenched word meanings and syntax like a New Jersey bouncer twisting his girlfriend’s arm into a chickenwing and shoving her into his Scirocco, that nobody will print this in a journal or read it in a magazine. But even writing against agenda-driven poetry obsessed solely with technique is still writing with an agenda and a technique, especially since I began with a fanfare devoted to how I want to love you. So perhaps all love poetry will always be a danger to itself, and the best thing would be not to write or say anything but simply to wait thirty years to lead you by the hand from the gaggle of paparazzi and Indonesian businessmen and women doing a half-dressed group karaoke to Carpenters tunes at the bar in the Turquoise Flamenco Internet Café out to a quiet table on the piazza and silently observe how the penny-colored light of dusk bathing your profile reminds me of the sweeping wonder in all things as beautiful and epic as Ludwik Krzywicki’s empiricocritical phenomenalism, or mountains and birds, or the rapture captured between capital letter and period, or the endless blue syllable of the Mediterranean sounding out all the ways I want to love you.
Uncle Steve Spontaneously Delivers a Miniature Lecture on the Nuances of Jungian Psychology on a Sunday Afternoon at Abbotsford
And although he’s not my uncle but my mother-in-law’s only brother, I still call him Uncle Steve outside the front entrance where, having driven in from Duns, he greets me. We chat idly about the ten years that have passed since he attended my wedding reception in Rochester and watch two peacocks goosestep like spangled generals across the clipped green lawns. Just beyond, he tells me, would be the River Tweed, adding that the Scott home is in dire financial straits. And with a modest flourish he produces a business card from his wallet that shows his son is a Green Party MSP in Edinburgh. And he says his daughter is securing a grant to construct hedge mazes in Central Park as a public service. I fan out a brash panoply of snapshots: his niece, my wife of ten years, and our three daughters. At seventy-two, he remains unmarried to the woman he lives with. Before ambling off down the gravel path like a gray figure from fiction or history in his buff-colored cardigan and polyester slacks, he tells me that those women walk away from us with our anima in their hip pockets. And from the trees two peacock screams soar through the afternoon like love and death.
This was when we were renting a house on the west side of town next to the Clean Spot Laundromat and the red brick house owned by the mechanic with the ratty goatee and AC/DC T-shirt who used to raise hell on Saturday mornings and send his wife and small blond son running out the front door like refugees to find a cop cruiser already parked at the curb. This was when I was compensating full-time for the little I could give you and our baby girl, so early one Saturday morning while you slept I trapped her in a blanket and carried her out on the driveway to watch a yearling moose that had wandered into town from the Teton Basin. Its hide was the tacky brown of an old leather sofa. With a connoisseur’s fastidiousness, it nibbled leaves from the lilac hedge barricades around La Jolla Apartments. This was when the usual cop car arrived and, after a pause, started shooing the young moose down the road with searchlight and siren. I carried our girl in her white blanket cocoon around the corner of the house next door for a better look, and ice drenched my guts when we ran into the moose coming back the other way across the mechanic’s dandelion-crazed lawn. I lurched for the sanctuary of the garage, thinking of how I’d killed our child with good intentions, when a blast from the cop’s siren spooked the moose into the street so that it skidded on the pebbly asphalt and slammed to the ground with a sickening thud. This was everything you missed. Except for the way the moose loped off like a big awkward kid down the alley under the pink and aquamarine pulse of The Holiday Theater’s neon arrow, pursued by the cruiser, and the way I stood in the driveway with our baby girl and watched the mechanic and his wife and son come out and stand and watch, and how we looked at each other but didn’t say anything about how even though we’d just witnessed a monumental ruckus things were quieter than they’d been in our neighborhood on a Saturday morning for a long time.
Matthew James Babcock teaches writing, literature, and creative writing at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg. He received the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award in 2008. His book, Private Fire: The Ecopoetry and Prose of Robert Francis, is forthcoming from the University of Delaware Press.