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Matthew James Babcock


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.

Listen to Matthew James Babcock read this poem:



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.

Listen to Matthew James Babcock read this poem:



Moose Remembered

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. 

Listen to Matthew James Babcock read this poem:



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.
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