Bookmark #4 Toronto, Ontario

“Essentialist, by Ken Babstock


Surfacing at St. George, I cupped my hands
and blew—bodies scattering among museums,bank towers, campus rooms, and shops, each
                       
              to where they’re thinking of or not, seemed
to prove a law we’re locked into, demonstrable
with iron filings, magnets and clean tabletop.
— from “Essentialist” from Airstream Land Yacht,  by Ken Babstock, published by House of Anansi. Bookmarked at St. George and Bloor Streets, Toronto on October 21, 2010.

 

About Ken Babstock and Essentialist

“Essentialist” is from Ken Babstock’s third collection of poetry, Airstream Land Yacht, which was a finalist for the Griffin Prize for Poetry, the Governor General’s Literary Award and The Winterset Award, and won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. The italicized lines in “Essentialist” are from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nominalist and Realist.

Ken Babstock is also the author of Mean, winner of the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the Milton Acorn People’s Poet Award, and Days into Flatspin, winner of a K.M. Hunter Award and finalist for The Winterset Award.

Airstream Land Yacht is published by House of Anansi Press.

Photo credit: Carolin Seeliger.

Photo credit: Carolin Seeliger.


The Poem

Sung underground in the civic worm burrowing
                  west, I was headed to class when a cadet
                                    in full combat dress got on my train.

                                    But for a pompom sprucing up the beret,
                  his age, the fact he was alone, and here,
this boy could’ve been boarding amphibious

landing craft. I checked for guns, grew pious
                  of this spinning orb’s hotter spots. He
                                    was all camo, enactment-of-shrubbery, semblance

of flora in varying shades, hues, mottlements
                  of green. A helmet dangled on his back, a hillock
in spring, sprouting a version of verdant grasses

in plastic. I got past enjoying a civilian’s recoil
                  from things military, brutal, conformist, and took
                                    a peek at what my soldier was so engrossed in—

                                    Thoreau’s Walden—imagine him, rubbing oil
                  into a Sten gun’s springed bolts, working through
his chances at a life away from men: berries

plumping in among their thorns, night’s
                  curtain drawn across the window of the lake…
                                    We must reconcile the contradictions as we

                                    can, but their discord and their concord
                  introduce wild absurdities into our thinking
and speech. No sentence will hold the whole

truth, and the only way in which we can be just
                  is by giving ourselves the lie; speech is better
                                    than silence; silence is better than speech;—

                                    All things are in contact; every atom has
                  a sphere of repulsion;—Things are, and are
not, at the same time;—and the like.
There are other

minds. Surfacing at St. George, I cupped my hands
              and blew—bodies scattering among museums,
                                    bank towers, campus rooms, and shops, each

                                    to where they’re thinking of or not, seemed
                  to prove a law we’re locked into, demonstrable
with iron filings, magnets and clean tabletop.

I can watch their faces go away. The singing’s not
                  to record experience, but to build one viable
                                    armature of feeling sustainable over time.

                                    The stadium’s lit, empty, and hash-marked
                  for measuring the forward push. On the surface
of the earth are us, who look in error, and only seem.