by Matthew James Babcock

Believe, if you can, that you are stopping
in Peru and not Montana. Believe,
as you gas up at Ralph’s Exxon & Convenience
under a sky of hallucinogenic blue,
that your parents and children (who are
traveling with you) are not gimpy orphans
vending Chiclets or thugs poised
to swipe razor blades through purse straps
on the arms of women in the Crazy Critters
Bingo League. Look around. Envision
North in South America: adobe hills, wind
carding yellow grass, clouds as white as
the January that Pizarro’s Spanish churches
scrubbed the Rímac Valley of every Incan oracle
to pave a City of Kings. Holster the nozzle
in the pump, and in the rain-scarred
rearview mirror see yourself as parent and child.
Be transported. Follow your generations
inside to pay and count the buildings
that mimic pueblos jóvenes. A pink hotel
called The Peat that commands, “Cook Your
own Steak!” Also, Jan’s Café crying
“Welcome Hunters!” and “Home-cooked Grub!”
Under a stuffed coyote priced at
five hundred dollars, listen to your father
tell the cashier how in 1961, when he
was a bellhop in Wyoming, he checked
Ansel Adams into Jenny Lake Lodge. Spy no
shiskabobbed deep-fried guinea pigs
in the stainless steel food warmers. Sigh
and buy your three daughters eight-packs
of B’loonies made by a company in Jacksonville.
In the car, strap on the seatbelt of what
history has revealed. Accelerate up the onramp
of knowing that of all the world’s scams,
the most footloose is that you must travel one way.
Count the others: 1) believe; 2) remember;
3) save space for turning tourist
in the conquest of the present hour, a figure
wandering into the black and white landscape
of forgetfulness, where you pause
with folk parcels of pulverized aphrodisiacs
and anti-depressants to watch a woman
with a toothless smile unravel the scarlet thread
of your pulse from an alpaca blanket
in the photo you think twice about taking.


Matthew James Babcock teaches writing of all varieties at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg.  His book, Private Fire: The Ecopoetry and Prose of Robert Francis, is available from the University of Delaware Press.  He was a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award Recipient in 2008, and Press 53 chose his novella, “He Wanted to Be a Cartoonist for The New Yorker,” as a first-prize winner in its 2010 Open Awards competition.  His favorite fruit is the plum—from the tree in his back yard—even though they’ve all been harvested now and served to his family in breakfast tortes.