Matthew James Babcok (MA, Binghamton University) teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at BYU-Idaho. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or will appear in Illuminations, Poem, Poetry Motel, The Pacific Review, The South Dakota Review, and others. He and his wife Missy, a jazz vocalist, live with their three daughters in Rexburg, Idaho.
—for Hugh Woodworth, Jr.
The day after my father-in-law's small intestine
bursts like a cottonwood in May,
I drive with my wife and baby girl
to the Jackson Hole Airport
along an aspen-happy stretch of Highway 33
maintained by the employees
of Hammond's Antler Chandeliers
where it strikes me that
there must be some cosmic repository
for all the sorrows in our lives,
something like the black vinyl bag
he gave me after I married
his daughter and got my first real job—
a capacious attaché in the sky
with a busted zipper
and one hundred multiform pockets in which
we store with custom-made precision
every retractable pencil of worry,
each pocket calendar-sized grief.
A colossal Pandora's Box in reverse,
it reserves a Velcro pouch for personal
and universal tragedy—all the original records
Bix Beiderbecke's parents refused
to listen to, stacked in a back closet,
while he improvised solo through
a fatal spate of the DT's
in a borrowed apartment in Queens;
the eight percent survival rate
of Costa Rican sea turtle eggs
during the seasonal arribadas;
all the stillborn calves from elk ranches
in Idaho, eulogized by taxidermy,
where I check in my wife's luggage
and assure her everything will be fine.
The drive back through the pass
reveals June's magic corn erupted
on the grassy verge in wild dandelion herds
and salvoes of Indian paintbrush, white mosaics
of snowpack hanging free form
in the rugged gorges of pine,
spouting jubilant springs from the rock face.
The day my girl was born
I pulled her from a worn sport duffle
and clipped her to the heart's belt.
Now her absence in the house
is a small brass hook
mounted on the air on which I wait
to hang a light spring jacket of spent hours,
envisioning her grandfather
in an uncrowded small town airport
packing his unruffled soul loosely
between shaving kit
and tennis shoes in a large
U. S. Navy steamer plastered with
labels from Veracruz and Milan,
sleeping through takeoff and then
flinging open the cargo doors as the plane
banks over peaks and glacial lakes,
heaving the trunk out and scattering ten thousand
lean white shirts from horizon to horizon.
Daughters and Geese
Only at 5:17 a.m.
could my wife's nursing
our daughter in bed next to me
sound exactly like
Canada geese banking hard
against the moon over the thin
aluminum roofs of the campers
at the Rainbow Lake R.V. Park
off Highway 20. In V-formation,
they batter the sky over
the railroad bridge at
the Jefferson County line, and her
sweet pucker drinks in
the room's blue darkness.
Words alone fail: suckle, sip.
She guzzles every future October
breeze whole hog. Her lips
are sugared around with a crust
of constellations and bright plunging
meteorites. Classic white cheeks,
body a barred dark chocolate brown,
feet the color of webbed shadows
with a greenish cast, eyes cut
crescents of midnight, preening
away sleek impossibilities. They seek
the natal home in bulrushes
and cord grass. Her sketchy
swallowing summons the dawn wind.
To listen is to be called insatiable
to an endless supper of names:
Linnaeus, Yahweh, Branta
canadensis occidentalis. To be
where the silent curved roar of
the lesser covert feathers divides the air
high above Nova Scotia, where
the wet colostrum-rich seal
kisses the saturated red sand
of the areola, at that estuarine lull
where the salt tide first tips
its tongue to the freshwater current.
The poem was the dog that I saw,
or rather, its movement—
because foreground ran into background
down the winterbound street, and all
that could be perceived
was the royal blue collar
and tin bell ringing like the untrained wind.
What I retained was, at most, marginal:
puce ball, muzzle, pebbles in snow, pink padded feet.
Naturally that is what happens when we chase after
meaning and find outlined in it another profound camouflage
so that attention to detail becomes more important
than seeing it all in black and white.