The Journey

I wonder if The Age of the Journey has passed

in America now that The Port of Arlington

has become Earl Snell Memorial Park, and not

one hundred yards from rocky banks

where burly voyageurs and their Cayuse brides

upended canoes of fresh pelts, a toothless

Shell station attendant who’s a dead ringer

for Carmine Ragusa tops off my tank.

Travel means nothing in an era when every

destination is your living room. Will any

of us ever drink our urine on the run

from Modocs?  Leave the train of Shutler wagons,

seventeen and barefoot, to strike out alone

through sagebrush with only a Winchester

and loaf of saleratus bread? The Tillamooks

had The Age of Myth, Age of Transformation,

and Age of True Happenings.  We drift

in estuaries of interstate, squint into

unleaded sun.  No matter how hard I dream,

every smokehouse ends up as the empty

building that was Happy Canyon Pizza.  Every

yellow Union Pacific caboose chugs inches

and becomes a museum under the ecstatic

sneakers of my children.  I think I could be wrong,

though, when a girl emerges from the unisex

rest room I am waiting to enter.  Her hair

and snug pants are a tribute to the immortality

of Joan Jett.  Her boyfriend has escaped

the history of hygiene to slouch against

the coffee dispenser.  I am witness to the dawn

of an epoch of primal odysseys, as she ferries

through the exit, arms draped in plastic satchels

of peach cupcakes and jugs of green caffeine.

Only when she nears a rust-dappled Dodge Ram

with a shattered camper shell does he touch her.

He has explored the smooth geography

of her body a thousand times, but the hand

he brushes over the black scowl of a rose tattoo

on her shoulder blade is as gentle as the blush

of moonlight on virgin prairie, a gesture that says

one more day, and around the next bend

lies the ripe country where we’ll plow a blue gorge

wider than the Columbia through the wilderness

of our desire and claim, at last, The Territory of Love.


Junior Gymnastics Karma

On the overcast winter afternoon

you dub yourself Cynic of the Age

travel with my daughter and me

to the Crystal Cup at Salt Lake Community College

and watch her and three hundred

prepubescent pixies torch history’s tournament

of blood with their smiles.  Do not doubt.

The sports complex of the cosmos

turns on the sacred torque of give and take.

Thus saith the sturdy woman in

Mighty Mites Cheer and Dance jacket

who distributes laser-green wristbands

at the entrance. She pronounces blessings

on you when you pay instead of sneak

in the back. Her life’s wages: a door-knob

nose, a figure like a sack of produce.

Her grin of broken teeth gleams

like a rain gutter shaggy with January ice.

This world is judgment.  Final scores

sift sequins on snow.  Long drives

end in long waits.  Chump-change scholarships

chain gorgeous Lithuanian women

to the Saturday shift in the snack bar,

the lanky beauty of their volleyball

uniforms the only fair exchange

for three-dollar hot dogs and popcorn.

And you—head bowed on the stand,

awaiting the executioner’s medal, its surface

embossed with bazookas spouting

bouquets of flame, corpses backbending in

mass graves, helicopters applauding

for starving orphans.  If you strap on the sexless

leotard of your soul and assemble

at the gate with the spangled ranks from

Top Flight, Idaho Elite, Tiny Titans,

and the team in shimmery peach who flew in

from Texas and swept the all-around—

if you don’t commit the unpardonable sin

of blinding yourself for spite, you might

arc through the lights and land forever

on the morning someone drove

all day to award you the ceremony of your birth.


Statistics from My Daughter’s Sixth Grade Choir Concert

When Miss Hale, one third through her reproductive years,

herds her class onto the risers for Greg Gilpin’s

“Do You Feel the Rhythm?” we clap.  Not as

hermaphrodites announcing our presence in rural India,

but as proud parents of kids in black and aquamarine

Choir is Epic! T-shirts.  My girl shifts from foot to foot,

and I count twenty students over to find a boy

with an extra rib.  The Down’s Syndrome redhead

in blueberry sneakers—Miss Hale’s future son, the longer

she waits to have children—grins and releases nearly all

of the 1.5 pints of gas he produces daily.  Between

Curry’s “Down to the River to Pray” and Albrecht’s

“Won’t Grow Up,” I’m transformed.  I become

a Gallup lightning rod for fifty-seven percent

of people in Cleveland’s City Hall on National Prayer

Day and skyrocketing dwarfism rates.  From the back,

a cough, at sixty miles per hour, punctures an

awkward pause as the pianist’s fingernails grow

faster than her toenails.  Who are these youngsters?

I wonder: as they get down-and-dirty-go-go-dancer

for McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  Will they be

allergic to deodorant and milk?  Who will tell them

they have brains faster than computers, bones stronger

than steel?  Which one of ten finger-popping cuties

will send a nude photo of herself to a crush then twine

a scarf in a treble clef around her neck the night

her mother screams an aria in a house filling up with

two pounds of shed skin per person?  Bang.  Bang.

Miss Hale’s fairy baton drops them like shooting gallery

ducks into cancer, fallen arches, and waterborne waste.

Then my girl looks at me.  And I know she will use

all 600,000 of her breaths to adopt black dogs.  Already,

her taste buds outnumber mine.  Her heartbeat sprints

ahead of the stony riverbeds five pints of blood paint

through my veins.  Already, her glance rewrites the world’s

songbook of facts, the epic slogan on the T-shirt

that says we will lick our elbows.  We will love longer

than chewing gum stays in the stomach. We will

sing when we have to let go of our 75 to 100 trillion cells.


Matthew James Babcock’s writing has appeared or will appear in Alehouse; Bateau; The Battered Suitcase; The Cape Rock; PANK; Pinyon; Poem; Quiddity; Rattle; The Rejected Quarterly; Slant; The South Dakota Review; The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review; Spillway; Spoon River Poetry Review; Terrain; and Wild Violet. He earned the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award in 2008 and first place in Press 53’s 2010 Open Awards (novella category, “He Wanted to Be a Cartoonist for The New Yorker”). Matthew has his PhD in Literature and Criticism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is faculty at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, where he teaches English. His book, Private Fire: The Ecopoetry and Prose of Robert Francis, is available from the University of Delaware Press.

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