Ken Babstock / Two poems

Author portrait by Helen Castor /

”The inaugural recipient of The Writers’ Trust Latner Prize for a body of work in mid-career, Ken Babstock is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently, On Malice (Coach House) and Methodist Hatchet (Anansi) which won The Griffin Prize for Poetry and was finalist for The Trillium Prize. Airstream Land Yacht was also a finalist for The Griffin Prize as well as The Governor General’s Award and won The Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Babstock lives in Toronto with his son. New poems have appeared, or will appear soon, in New York Review of Books, Granta, Poetry Magazine, The Manchester Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rialto, The Fiddlehead, Brick, Conduit, and elsewhere.



Milk and Hair’


Buffalo south over the marbling lake seen

pitching an errant new mall. Clear mornings


I’m meant to be comfortable with the American

vernacular, it was meant to happen between channels.


Stop pretending you can just up and start thinking—

it’s mostly snooker, sardines over ham, the sense


of having pointed to door number 3

at the business end of some steamy


ruminations. At ease nowhere in the murk

of Rathmines, the gaffer hid me behind a ventilator


hood while union reps inspected the worksite. Illegal

labour stashing pay packets in a heatless Georgian squat.


Equanimity in the face of aggression such

a virtue among flowers of the meadow, the rest

of us should express ourselves— ‘One

eye sees, the other feels’ said Klee, and Andromeda

there in the feed being gold leaf on cake trailing

coordinates. Space, right? Then ghetto spider. Kid can

dance. Presence shuts the lid of its music box. To refer

to oneself in Bremen one points to an egg. If you

manage to tear it clean from its spindle, clingfilm

does what its told, keeping the dead alive

that little bit longer. Yes, Ive gone camping. . .

Am I coming across as a man speaking? Im not

proud of it, the silk underlayers, the sharkskin

DINTEX soft shell Tactical hoodie. At least I

refrain from song before a fire. This year, to

choose between the Barbed Wire Museum

in Kansas and the Goderich salt mine, I’m

throwing a garden spade at a targeted ad,

spending my miles on what mammals hold

in common, debt, nerves, milk and hair.



Milk and Hair: A Translation


Upstate New Yorks up to its usual shit, I suppose,

though I cant see it from here, unlike my shoes.

If you find that compelling, I have hash I can sell you.

You keep saying you know what you want, that you

arrived here after a series of difficult choices, that

youre not one to be fucked with or disrespected.

I’ve been where you are and turns out I didnt and am.

Dont ask about the goat in Howth. Or Miss Havisham.

Wildflowers are cool enough, its just they’re

not of much use, being neither purple or

delicate. I stare at shit on the phone and am amazed.

Then get sick to my stomach at having eaten nothing.

‘I have two words for you: Plastics.’ One word. What?

Yes, Ive slept in the Canadian Wilderness’… It

is like the nightmare where youd kill for a place

to shit while everyones screaming through their face,

pointing out patches of poison oak. Help yourself.

Here on in I stick with my kind. Sectile bricks

to crumble and spin up, eyes like deep-set tureens, priced

out of the city along with the florists and choice dealers.






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