after Susan Elizabeth Howe’s “What Is a Grackle?”
By Matthew James Babcock
Jocular old boxer, jockey swaggering
in patched black and white satin,
raucous uncle with the bluesy squawk
of a young Joe Cocker.
No jackdaw, no Australian butcherbird—
too loose. Glib opportunist with a cry
like a hacksaw, glossy spin doctor
drag racing cops, goosing the throttle,
snoozing in superhero silks.
Behold the bruised lover. Balloon vendor
snagging stragglers at the Job’s
Daughters Dance in a used blue tuxedo.
Magpies laugh at their own gaffs, off-color
jokes rolling like boxcars through
family gatherings. From junkyard jukeboxes
they airlift in the biker jackets of drifters,
sling breezy news from six-shooters—
titter, gawk, chaffer, shmooze, wink and gargle—
proof you come back as the real you.
Boozed up, bulletproof smile, zoot suit
the sheen of a cheap razor.
Cheeky Pica pica flubbing Latin and Greek,
Mark Twain in clownish doctoral gowns,
shoebox of medals rubbed smooth. You choose,
they warble, lollygagging in long lines
to haggle for the bargain bauble. In every puddle
shines a miracle. Every mile a free meal.
You can never take too many bows.
Songs of the Magpie
the six refrains
What is every February moon
but the amber in your eye?
The footloose goose cruises in the caboose.
Some days only you can take the snake
out of the snake oil.
Sinister sisters: punch clock and prescription.
Roam rhymes with home rhymes with shalom
rhymes with Om rhymes with . . .
Matthew James Babcock is Professor of English at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg. His books include Points of Reference (Folded Word), Strange Terrain (Mad Hat Press), and Heterodoxologies (Educe Press). His debut fiction collection, Four Tales of Troubled Love (Harvard Square Editions), won first place in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His follow-up fiction collection, Future Perfect, was a finalist for the 2020 BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize and is forthcoming from Engine Books.