Ken Babstock



”, comma,”

– Graham Foust

No nasturtiums slung
from the screw hooks.
A squirrel runs
the tension wire
to a transistor coil,
all coiled tension,
sophistry, self-talk.
Evening midges
doing senility above
the water main.
Waterline on concrete
from last year’s floods.
Let’s be mindful. No,
not like that, as needs
be. The overcast,
you’ll notice,
brushed an expensive
Himalayan salt,
dating to the year
I was born. This fire
hydrant and a hostage
crisis. Concorde’s
first flight, the floppy
disk, Isle of Wight.
I nudge the swivel
tap and clean water
appears, depress
the doohickey,
my waste removed.
The first smart phone
was a Rubik’s cube,
the first Rubik’s cube
a snuff box, the first
snuff box likely bone
beading. The comfort
in knowing one knows
what one knows
without asking much
of oneself Hegel
called ordinary. I like
to sit down in my
ordinary, bothering
no one, unchanged
by the unchanged
object, totting up
the times I stayed
out of it. It’s conceivable,
or it should be, that
a decade of vaseline,
station wagons, rayon,
and combs might
have shown me
a window in which
I gifted myself the end
of myself, and it endured
up to now, that gift.






No point thinking I could do it here, either—
though I love the barrens, the wildflower and lichens
where the trail runs out under a decommissioned
lighthouse. You don’t see seals in the swell, it’s decades
since they came into the knowledge people live here,

in a paucity of trained doctors and rental cars,
a standing promise of the coming of oil, turn
in the economy, return of the fisheries, an internship
in tech or wind. Caribou racks get nailed to a tuckamore.
The terns have their notions, seen fleeing over

breakers, nicking the horizon with dark blades
from under dark hoods, ornery little flight simulators
levelling up and never getting nauseous.
Speaking of, what’s the distinction between pot
to piss in and plot to piss on? One buries one’s father.





Not a dragon’s but my own
tooth, and not even whole,
half, having
split in my mouth then spent
months in a coat pocket.
Raked out with some change
and cigarette foil on a street
in your city,
litter now, weak
seed row, my own army
I’m meant to toss what into
just to keep me intact? You’re
on your way back. Crossing
provincial borders. Three
out of six bulbs
in the lightwell now dark.
The field of battle now dark.
There’s a seven
year truce with the earth, the end
of which sees earth swallow
the sword.
Which results
in no word. Would you have had
one? I mean,
at the ready, knowing
an army could be reassembled
so quickly? I’m never
sure if it’s agency
or deep structure that wants
what it wants. From street
level this should appear a safe
space. Bathed in light.
I won the capital and now it’s mine.
To appear kind, I killed,
after you’d come, a funnel
spider then dismantled
its phantom trumpet. Right
now I’m suspicious of exuberance
outperforming nature,
tactlessness getting the better
of brute fact,
one of the fouler
notions to have beset us
on our walks beyond the pale,
the present, our impressions of peacetime.


Ken Babstock is the author of five collections. A sixth, Swivelmount, is forthcoming from Coach House Books. His books have won The Griffin Prize and The Trillium Award, and in 2014 he was the inaugural recipient of The Writers’s Trust Latner Prize for a body of work in mid-career. Poems have appeared in The New York Review of Books, POETRY, Granta, Manchester Review, Boston Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, BRICK, Magma, The Rialto, The Well Review, Ambit, Conduit, Poetry Birmingham, The Walrus, The Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. He lives in Toronto with his son.

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