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Mean was published by Anansi

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Available books at Chapters.ca

Days Into Flatspin

Mean

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For more Poets
Ken Babstock Ken Babstock


Boot Mat (after Gericault's Wreck of The Medusa)

Never said Welcome but Leave it at the door.
Panning through slush for gravel, it was two square
feet of floating drama:

marbled Kodiacs, their scarred steel-toes tucked under
rad coils. The countable ribs of an emaciated galosh.
Perishing woolen mitt,

half on, half off; its sodden idiot-string trailing
in the drink. A cold-blooded thing, it eked out a living
in the sub-Arctic of the mudroom.

We'd de-boot and set each out— winter's weepy
survivors— on this raft masted with the handles of shovels,
rigged with frayed scarves,

pass-me-down pullovers, and thrown on a meltwater swell.
It was that way. What's gone is art. Blessed
galleon of the wood-stove,

a brushed blip in the distance.


Another Dim Boy Claps

The first book you truly
understood
sent your days into

flatspin. Indiscretions,
indirection, applauding
it all glumly, bending

whatever soft metal
those chicken arms
could bend. Landing

at Mirabel from Shannon
you found the plateau
a throng of jugglers,

no one you knew answered
their phone, Hell's Kitchen
shut with a whumpf,

lifting litter into
the traffic. Your thumb
went up, a letterbox

flag, and we sank
back into the valley.
Men drilled into cutaways

in the roadside, planted
charges and it rained
granite over the rail line.

Women acquired labs in
German cities, their language
bladed, distant as the pole-

star. You shrugged off every
option that wasn't
a long wait in a dim room


Signal Hill

England sent tap tap,
and tap tap tap, and the hill
answered back.

There were cannons
in bunkers, mines in the narrows,
the Will to Power

periscoping up
in the harbour. Those battlements
rust and whistle

there still, but splashes
of spray-paint lighten the gloom,
and will for a while if we let the vandals
roam, confettiing the concrete
with condoms, trading

in pills that alter
their vista through the gun-slits
of history. The vandals

are young, and make
use of the ruins. Stand back.
Thank them for that.


Fire Watch

Hello, listen, I'm on a field phone, do not speak until I say “over.” Repeat,
don't respond until I say “over.” Over. Do you understand,
or was your silence intentional? Over.
Northwest of The Seven

Sisters, in a sort of bunker on stilts. Over. My first week I called in a cobra
of smoke. I was packing my gear in a panic, when
the next tower west confirmed it was only
low cloud. Over. I

get a crackling out of Alaska that sounds religious. Vladivostok. CBC.
I've decided I like Paganini. Over. No, leave it, or throw
it out, I won't need it here. If ever.
Over. When storms wander

across the lower jaw of the coastal range, unloading their cargo here,
it's like being in the engine room of something metallic
and massive. Over. My first grizzly passed
within a stone's throw,

followed an hour later by the sucking thumps of a Parks chopper. Nothing
since. Over. Days, I rearrange the stones shoaled up
at the base of the uprights and struts.
Nights, I stab at imagining

anything lovely, but end up laughing. Over. The forest goes quiet as if waiting
for me to finish. It listens hard to whatever isn't
itself. Makes me anxious. I think
of how we ever came to . . .

[inaudible] given the arms length I kept joy at. Over. Affection stung like a rasp
drawn over [inaudible] Over. I thinned the world of it.
Don't live as I did. Allow for terms
of relief. The black

maples aligned along streets, waddling skunks, their dark dusters through
the foxglove, your shoulder bag, shoes, and the faces
of strangers; all may strike you as fibres
of a tremendous sadness.

Over. That's you in among the weave of it, new. Over. Is that important?
I've been contracted to watch this horizon and will
be here until something happens. Over.
Tell them it will. Over.


Bottled Rabbit

A dream: of a stand of pole birch straight ahead
that drink into their moon-white trunks what little
light there is, then pose in stark relief to the darkening

beyond. The silence, though, is too complete, not right,
nothing shifts, whistles or scuttles through the mess
of undergrowth. The effect, not of waking in the midst

“of dark woods, the right road lost” but the wringing
of phantom hands, a poverty of words, as the mind tries
to flush some authentic response to this charcoal study

by Cezanne. When waking comes it's to radio voices, a he
and a she, on about slips, snares, the gutting shed and mason
jars. It's the CBC, in a town I didn't catch near Gander, doing

a segment, it seems, on the unusual folk dishes and dietary
habits of the ever-colourful Newfoundlander. . . .bottled rabbit
he's saying today I'll show you how to make bottled rabbit, or

jarred rabbit, as it's called in other parts. And as the host
gives a slowed-down translation that imparts a tut-tut sound
to all the t's, I'm seeing that reticent, cardiganed man in

the one act by Pinter hauling up tiny masts on a glassed-in
schooner; only it's a match-stick bunny now, and he's trying to
attach the whiskers. You can see I've already skinned, cleaned

and quartered this one
(the whiskers quiver, fall off, the ears
lie back. The man sighs, lights up, starts in again) and normally one
rabbit, quartered, 'll fit into each mason jar
. It's here the Pinter

set fades, morphs, becomes my great-aunt's kitchenette twenty
years ago; the margarine-coloured curtains are closed, so
the light takes on a clinical, formaldehyde glow, and two jars

are taken down from a shelved row of preserved I-didn't-know-
whats. A lid twists, its wax and rubber seal breaks with a sucking
sound, bits of white fatty pulp drop from the lip and she dunks

two fingers and thumb through the film for the pink-brown, naked
oblongs of meat. Perhaps we are what we remember we ate, but
I've no memory, now, of what that rabbit tasted like, though I'm

tempted to say it tasted like rabbit. The host, here, pipes in
unbelievably with wow, it tastes like chicken . . . And thusly
a nation is born, I thought, or something fuzzier that mea nt

that, as I was still barely awake. But you were coming to, just then, as they descended into clangorous clean-up noises, his water audibly bubbling in the pan. I touched your forehead: What's real?

Our aloe plant teetered on its chopstick struts, leaned over
its double crawling the bedcover. The word wore down, thinned
to a film on the air in the ear. Morning ate its hinge.


The 7-Eleven Formerly Known As Rx

Back in the day, I was proud of my vast palette
of candies: those for a penny over the front
counter, for kids and grannies, and the more
potent display locked in the back cabinet,

only ever given away if you'd come with a note
declaring you blocked, arthritic, headachy
or just couldn't say what was wrong for the frog
in your throat. Now, I sell mouthfuls of salt

to the stoned. It was snug in here, I was kept
stocked and swept by a family of five from Lisbon.
Now I'm grudgingly manned by tattooed kids
in green tunics helping themselves to the porn. And

the light in me's a perpetual migraine, I'm a super-
nova on a quiet corner, beacon to that fleet
of 4Runners and Acuras disgorging their thunder
of hip-hop and jungle. I haven't slept since 1983.

To make space for the flavoured coffee station and
an ATM, they knocked out my east wall, expanded
onto the ribbon of lawn— not at all what that Aussie
meant when he defined “sprawl”. I used to dream

in flamenco played on a push-button tape deck, or
the gurgle of talk radio on a Saturday, but I'm
lobotomized now, a drooler, listening to the Freon
drone from the dairy and drinks cooler. Gone

the licorice whips, manila envelopes, shampoo,
shaving kits; I'm all Scratch'n Win, Vanity Fair,
shellacked fruit, and the crinkling bladders of months-old
chips. I squat in my numbness and stare, recording

each night's parade of freaks on hidden surveillance
film. I'm hyper-aware. I've begun to loathe
the intervals between guns when I have to convince
myself I'm still here. Oh, Maria, shelving hockey

cards while muttering lines by Pessoa; Papa's spirals
of suds greasing the glassfront; the boy out back
whacking tennis balls off my brick hip as the day
falls away. We stayed in the black but that

wasn't enough, nor was attaching Rx to the family name.
Atlanta home office faxes directives re: New Promo,
end aisle-ing my insides. They demand perfect rhyme: “I”
ground down, cauterized, shelved in the back of “franchise.”