From Issue II (2017)
Short Discourse on Species
by MATTHEW JAMES BABCOCK
Five days after the vicious frost of All Souls’ Day I shed my college sweatshirt in fifty
degrees of Saturday, and I am surprised, digging in the garden while somewhere
off Anger Island in the Great Bear Rainforest scruffy biologists and Heiltsuk guides
harvest gray wolf scat in vials to find traces of steelhead, Sitka black-tailed deer,
and black bear.
And I am planted in the paradox of bear as both destroyer and hors d’oeuvre,
the warm spade of sun sinking hunger in my vitals as I tear into the slurry of mud
with the savage relish of a carnivore. I yank pale nets of Chinese parsley and blunt carrot
shards from sockets of sloppy earth. The bloodless tendons of bean vines I ply
from a jerry-rigged trellis of plumber’s pipe and yellow twine. Aborted tomatoes clack
like river rocks, hardened to the color of smoky quartz.
The cycle of decay and renewal spares nothing. All survival is consigned to a dirty
five-gallon bucket, carted off as waste and the food of life that I am.
And here I am, heart roaring with a final charge, swinging my shovel like the Lord’s besom
of destruction, shattering clods and frail spindles of jewel mix nasturtiums. I bare fangs
like the alpha male guarding a half-chewed carcass when my daughters stray near
the mess in white sneakers and clean pink pants. Who—shaggy boar or rogue
scientist in bullet kayak—divines the truth of this life-in-death motif? Of autumn
disguised for a day in summer’s speckled hide? The how and why of daughters
born to die? Hear the nitrogen from dead chum salmon swelling pine needles
on the evergreen top. It is the sound of knowing we are the reaper and crop.
Matthew James Babcock
Matthew James Babcock teaches writing and literature at Brigham Young University–Idaho. His debut poetry chapbook, Points of Reference, is available from Folded Word. His full-length poetry collection, Strange Terrain, is available from Mad Hat Press; his debut essay collection, Heterodoxologies, is available from Educe Press; and his debut fiction collection, Future Perfect, is available from Ferry Street Books. Awards include Press 53’s Novella Prize, The Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award, and The Juxtaprose Poetry Prize. His scholarship can be found in The Journal of Ecocriticism and Private Fire: The Ecopoetry and Prose of Robert Francis.