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.

Pastor Annie's Directions for How to Get There

The praises go up. The blessings come down.
When you get to the dead end
Where they forgot to build a bridge,
Don’t shift into reverse. They’re right behind you, anyway.
Grab the stick,
Tap the water,
And watch, just watch.
Don’t worry about who’s back there.
They tailgated me down there, too,
But look at me waving to you
From the other shore!

The praises go up. The blessings come down.
At the cleft of the cliff on the Hudson
Hide yourself from incoming traffic.
Let Him pass, but get a glimpse
Of His tail lights. Your face
Will shine more than after a trip
To Elizabeth Arden.

The praises go up. The blessings come down.
At the Jericho Turnpike,
Turn right, then right, then right, then right.
Do this for a week. Fasten your seat belt.
On the last day, honk, lean your head out the window,
And shout over the rush of the cars.
The walls come down, I guarantee.

The praises go up. The blessings come down.
Out past Lindenhurst at the West Babylon rest stop,
When they offer you pork rinds, ask for vegetables instead.
You won’t get a ticket that way. But then, when the sheriff sees
Your out-of-state plates in the parking lot,
When he points to the Big Boy on the roof
And bull horns, Bow down, or I’ll tow you,
Call me. That cul de sac they’ve got, the fiery furnace?
I got impounded there once, too. But
Trust me. It goes around and around, and then
You end up back on the Montauk Highway again.
Take a whiff of this car. Do you smell smoke?  Me neither.

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…

Read the full bio

Issue 23 · November 2015

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