Which Helmet?

Ken Babstock

copyright ©2011 Ken Babstock

With the glove on, her pixellated breast every
demonstrably offensive line about young plums
and buds budding. With the glove and helmet on, “her”
is a proposition. With the helmet on she likes it when I
read to her from the book of desires I wrote
with the helmet on. Under the glove and helmet,
day indiscernible from night and want from love.
The other helmet cues God whispering in his quadrant.
There’s no visor or need of one on the God helmet;
face a mask of contemptuous ecstasies, road
map of heaven on earth and the helmet on.
There’s a crash helmet and infantry helmet
over in the corner that no longer fit as the head
of the poem has developed macrocephallicly.
Our universe, said to be coming apart at the seams,
poorly made, a Jofa from the mid-eighties, placing
us, like Butch Goring’s head, at no small risk.
Jousting viable with the helmet on with the helmet
on time soups finally and selves sift. Horizons converge
in the mouth under the helmet and the glove
grips them like floss. This is Helmut Lang; I got
it at a consignment store. There’s a Spartan
helmet behind glass; there’s not much on it.
The helmet you were born
with very nearly obsolete, its list of incompatible
attachments growing longer by the day. Take trees,
for instance. Think of all the songs. Think of all the songs
without a helmet on and how they seem to weep
torrents over nothing for no reason. Put this on. Put
this on feel time die bewildered, binary, purchased
but no purchase gained, drainage
streaming out over the chinstrap.

Notes on the Poem

We've marveled before at Ken Babstock's rapier wordplay in previous Poem of the Week selections from his Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted and winning works. (So has Griffin Poetry Prize judge Heather McHugh.) "Which Helmet?" from Methodist Hatchet is another dazzling example, with yet more breathtaking twists and angles. "Which helmet?" indeed. All manner of headgear are launched at us - some for us to wear, some donned by others - from the get-go. The poem tosses out new meanings, interpretations and revelations with each reading and each chapeau. As words and meanings shift line after line, the line between reality versus virtual reality and even unreality wavers, and it's increasingly difficult to establish just exactly where we're performing this juggling act. "[H]er pixellated breast" suggests that both she and the narrator, wearing helmets, are in some digital or virtual reality. Then again, "God whispering in his quadrant" could be some heavenly realm. What functions are these helmets performing? Protection, yes, but some seem to be symbols of aggression (jousting, for example), while others are just trivial fashion items (Helmut Lang, perfectly) purchased on sale. "There's a crash helmet and infantry helmet over in the corner that no longer fit as the head of the poem has developed macrocephallicly." How interesting that rather than getting a swelled head as "head of the poem", the narrator confesses in self-deprecating fashion that his head is abnormally small, likely due to incomplete brain development. However one tries to arm or protect one's brain or reasoning or intellect, it turns out that, in fact, it's the emotions no helmet can contain, as the poem concludes with "drainage streaming out over the chinstrap."

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