Poetry - Issue 23 | November 2015

Two poems by Anne Babson

Norse Explorers Reach the Mississippi


Whorled—like the son   who becomes
The dragon—    the spine dips
Like a Side-      Winding stream,
Beowulf’s     Gaets (by Lief
Eriksson     of other ships)
Arrive at last     at the river’s lips.
After the Vineland   which they vanquished,
They trek inland   looking for gold.
They see it     snaking darkly
Like the tail     of the lovely she-
Demon who     bargained death
Against glory     for go-getters.
They, too, have     thorn-lettered
Their names to       the contract
Their laird signed.  They, too,
Could own an     open landscape
Peppered by       people to vanquish
In werldschmerz   and walled-up regret.

They stand on     the steep bluff
And overlook     the oval arc
Of the current.      They crave more.
Without leaving     Wattled huts,
They go home     to glaciers again.


The path of this     Mississippi
Changes every year.  Floods crop up
In new places     where no one
Thought to put       paved levees.
After those Vikings,  Mark Twain wrote
That steamboat pilots   struck envy
In every schoolboy’s   book bag, and now

I stand here.      all explorers
Have gone. Map   topographers
Use satellite.      Unclear curves
Get clarified     electronically.


I crave more.      Call the she-demon –
I think she’s     slot-machining
With nickel slugs   at the casino—
I’m almost ready   to write it off,
Beowolf-      style, battle-wearily.
Maybe I want     sons so badly
I’ll sleep in     the snakepit.
Call her. Pour       mead on the carpet –
Then she comes.  When cheap booze
Flows, when wrestlers   watch football screens,
When oldies blare   out speakers,
She comes.  Call     her carefully;
She’s dressed to kill.  Call her for me

To strike the pact   again for stately
Favor in exchange   for chasing the
Mystery     Mississippi,
Amphibian     skin in fog, 
That I might       manifest
Some heroic     inclination,
Vanquishing     Viking thugs in
The unlit woods     of Warren County.
Call her.  I’ll     Cock the hammer –
Think of Thor.      Call her thither.
I’ll thorn the     Parchment through.

 1 2 >

About the author

Anne’s work has travelled all over the world, but more recently to Barrow Street, Cider Press Review, Iota, Iowa Review and Poetry Salzburg, among others. Read her first full-length collection The White Trash Pantheon (Vox Press, 2015) and chapbook, Poems Under Surveillance (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

More in the archive »