Matthew James Babcock teaches writing and literature at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg. Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry
Award winner in 2008. Impressions and Under the Stone, e-fiction collections, available from Wild Child Publishing. First place in Press 53’s 2010 Open Awards (novella category). Other work has appeared or will appear in Alehouse; Bateau; The Cape Rock; The Laughing Dog; The Pacific Review; PANK; Pinyon; Poem; Poetry Motel; Quiddity; Rattle; The Rejected Quarterly; The South Dakota Review; The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review; Spillway;
Stringtown; and Wild Violet.
The unexpected thaw musters inmates
to the sidewalk outside Arrowhead Mortgage.
Fresh from the Narrenturm, they scrape
gray slush from concrete with scoop
shovels and train electroshock gazes
on the traffic of the free world.
The surging temperature gives them leave
to labor in loose orange and white
candystripe sleeves. Good-old-boy
trios chaperone in navy blue, badges
glinting like stolen sun. Everywhere,
only movement grants asylum.
Frosted hatchbacks hobble through
the pharmacy’s nickelodeon, craving
opiates of exhaust and newspaper.
Gutter floods babble muddy bedlam.
The ranch outfitter’s marquee boasts
the cheapest Annie Oakley perfume.
Only birds are delivered. Starling
chain gangs break from slack telephone
wires above the roof of Thomas Vacuum
Sales & Service. Through the notch
in a crow’s wing, February flashes
the unfinished history of the madhouse
of the sky. A downy woodpecker shrieks
an alarm, flees the shuddering spiral staircase
of an aspen sapling, its brilliant skull
patch the smudge of dawn blood
into which it vanishes. The rosy bark
of lindens glows in the blue cold
like slapped cheeks. On ordinary pilgrimage,
the unshaven citizen passes and tries
not to stare. Each step extends the corridor
of light that escapes the prison of the air.