Matthew James Babcock Poems

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.

Katie Reed Poems

Scattering Garden

The bushes bear

no seed in winter.

Mourners stand

on planks

of a wooden arch.

They release ashes

onto rocks below,

a sea of blank faces.


Spider’s Stance

An alabaster stone,

smooth as the rock which bore it

and washed it by the stream –

among grainy bits of speckled white,

stood a spider.

It turned – paused – positioned,

its body, thick and copper,

reared like a wild mustang

in the western plains.

I swallowed my fear,

careful not to exhale,

breath held in suspension.

Waited – then it hustled down into a gully

and I skipped that stone across the stream.



Who pushes the wind past cheeks stinging harsh

through a window slit on desks scattering

words lying in print: neither you nor I.

Emerson’s beauty?

Frost’s dark design?

I have stood against the wind, screamed its name

as it raged destruction on rooftops, dismantled birches

to its will and stole a lover’s locket

up into concealed blankets of smoke grey.

I have welcomed the wind, whispered its name

as it swirled droplets of warm salt air,

carefully lifted a child’s kite with ease

up, up into illuminated blue.


is a lost stranger to freedom in form

pushing forth the wind.

Dickinson’s soul may rest easily.


Threads in the Forest

She talked of working in the factories, riveting metal to metal, the amount of manicures it took to right the calluses. She said it was like sewing together planes. She asked what the war was like. I wanted to say it was like sewing body to body, trying to hold the world together…I told her people saw worse than me. She frowned. I was not a war hero with medals pinned to my chest. I was a man with neatly parted hair who drank too much, coffee and the other stuff. I could not be riveted back together. This was not a callous that could be buffered away. She toyed with perfect pin curls and commented, with a pink pursed frown, about the rain. I remembered the rain, shiny on the fogged glass of my watch. The hands ticking, obscured by mud. Time was obscured by mud and tin can meals and the cold of the trench. Her nails were a familiar red. She fussed with a stray thread on my shirt, flashes of ruby against the forest green. The forest was darker, greener. Threads didn’t stand out in forests. She smiled rows of perfect white teeth. I remember sand and an ocean and foam that bubbled bodies, shoving them against the shore. A cemetery. She asked if St. Laurent would be warm this time of year.

Ivor Irwin

My Internist Prescribes

Guess it depends on which of your three eyes that you look at it with.

All I see, floating around me, is detritus.

The detritus of denied intimacy.

The detritus of the glib.

Like beautiful Venezia, you float in your gondola

and ignore the surfing turds.

Peripherally, if you take the time to stuff cotton wool up your nose,

there is the renaissance,

gargoyles in repose.

Pretty girls chinning crumbling window sills.

Perry Como crooning.

A strand of DNA showing off, curtsying,

vaguely remembering my ancestors days of slavery in Mitzrayim.

A novella performed in my arteries.

My internist prescribes,

I obey.

The pills are orange and yellow and a gruesome sort of flecked turquoise.

I wash them down with lukewarm water

and the eye at the back of my head winks..




I pray in the morning.

I drink at night.

Somewhere in between there is the dog barking

the genuflecting of authority figures.

The urge for fried food.

A notion of racial purity.

Beethoven with his ear smushed into the piano lid.

The first names of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The ten plagues always carry I.D.

“Hi! My name is Locusts!”

The facsimile of God that all those meaty boys pray to in football season

Knows that repetition causes cancer..

And in the Garden of Eden it rains and rains.

You think you’re in Manchester.

I’m not a bit religious, except when it comes to taking my pills.



Dear Yahweh

Dear Yahweh, can’t wait to be a burden on my kids.

Long long time, they’ve cumbered me

So, soon they’ll  deliver and carry

Bleach and clean and scrub-a-dub-dub.

And do it happily.


No Sun City for me.  No old folks warehouse, please.

No special strangers tossing me

like some smelly old sack of shit.

Each must take turns putting me up

in a sunny parlor, so’s I don’t have to climb

to the top of the stairs. A nice

glimmering walk-in bath  with handles installed

A minor cost….. Yours, of course.


The purpose of children is insurance

A girded codpiece against the testicle-kicks of mean daddy time

A guarantee. Insurance.

Yeah, that’s what kid s are  all about!

Bring them up in your own image, knowing that they

Owe you and oughtn’t just farm you out


I’ve spent all the money on schooling and clothing.

Attended the ceremonies and soccer practices,

Cheered for you religiously at your games.

Knowing that, once you’re earning, you’ll be gone.

Only recreatable in photographic shrines,

Discount baby-sitting, birthday parties,

Christmas present competition and good Thanksgiving wine!


It’s been a blessing.


Now Lordy Lord Yahweh, dude.

I’m gonna be a burden on my children

Yes. And on my children’s children too.


Ivor Irwin 


IVOR IRWIN is a native of Manchester, England. He is the author of A Peacock or A Crow and has published writing in Sonora Review, The Sun, Playboy, Shankpainter, The Long Story, Actos de Inconsciencia, The Review of Contemporary Fiction and various other journals, including Burning Word. He writes a weekly column on Premier League soccer for Global Football Today. He thinks that a kidnapper who quotes Malthus may auger well for future sociopaths!

Zoe Etkin

The Dialogue


I say, Some parts of me are like this—

and open his hand

Rain water funnels into the pink


Thin channels of water

branching out and then contracting

as if surface tension isn’t a thing at all


He says he doesn’t understand

how I made him this way

so porous


I did it to show you, I say

made us parallel and reflective


He says, I cannot accept this

He means to say my body

but the word has too much shape

doesn’t fit well between his teeth


He searches for answers

but he’s too distracted

by the bright flush of stars

dappling the mid-day sky


How odd today is, he says

dragging his fingertips against

the cotton of my overcoat


I tell him, No—

This isn’t what you are supposed to see

and make with the unbuttoning


Underneath is a stretch of land

white, winter land with a center of melt


He turns to walk away

I am not this too

Yes, I say, you are this too



The Dialogue II


She says, Some parts of me are like this—

She says this as she undresses

exposing herself to him in the dead of winter

in a dead field under a shocked sky


This is the scene of it

the time and place of her opening


She tries to show him through his hands

through mirroring

but even this miracle is too small


He fingers her overcoat

his last attempt at softness

but she is angry


No, she says, No—

and removes every stitch

un-sews herself at the middle


All that warm begins to spread

out from her center and all over

her white skin


And the boy leaves her there—


A girl standing naked in a field

holding her heart


Zoe Etkin


Zoe Etkin is a Los Angeles based poet, student and educator. She is a recipient of the Beutner Award for Excellence in the Arts for her poetry. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Burning Word, Poetry South and Glyph.

Fragments on Catherine Clodius

My grandmother, after her stroke




Here, you are in that nightgown, a girl

again, wandering the downstairs hallway

escaping some dream.  Later I will find you

in the dark kitchen trying to remember

how to read the digits on the microwave.




In our house the bell was unexpected,

the cops even more so.  A call about a gun,


my father’s rigid confusion, my mother’s balance


failing.  I’m watching from the stairs thinking someone

must be dead.  You’re there too, your hands aflame.


Gun!  Your wild eyes.  Gun!




One day you will remember only the glass, child,

not even the goldfinch tree.




Earlier, late Summer,

your glass back door already showing Fall.


Tell me about your girlfriend.  You love

to watch me glower, all of eight.


You run a loose hand over my head and when

you call me so handsome what you mean

is that even now I look like him.


V.  Frederick Clodius


The only photo I recall of us:


I’m holding Big Bird, and he is holding me

up against his chest, his hair long

gone to cancer.


I wonder how he smelled and sounded,


if when he found his brothers with his fists, his face

red with whiskey, there was any other way.




Tell the one about the city in winter, the blacksnow

closing-in, your father’s factory coat, your mother’s

disease, the dusty stairs in that house,

the gathering war, the hooded woman who could hold fire

bare     you would become and never understand.




It is kinder under evergreen, isn’t it,

than in the white of hospital?


You knew this even when the tubes consumed you.


John oh John this place is guns.


It’s me, it’s Mike, it’s me


FM Stringer


FM Stringer is a MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Maryland. He grew up in New Jersey and studied as an undergraduate with James Hoch at Ramapo College. He currently lives in Baltimore.

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