Robert Wrigley was born in 1951 in East St. Louis, Ill. He was the first member of his family ever to graduate from college and the first male — in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wales and Germany — never to work in a coal mine.
In 1971, he was inducted into the U.S. Army but filed for discharge on the grounds of conscientious objection.
Wrigley attended Southern Illinois University and the University of Montana. He is currently a professor of English at the University of Idaho, where he teaches in the MFA program.
He has published six books of poetry: The Sinking of Clay City (1979); Moon in a Mason Jar (1986); What My Father Believed (1991); In the Bank of Beautiful Sins (1995); Reign of Snakes (1999); and The Lives of Animals (2003).
He has won two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine, the Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcart Prizes and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
He lives with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes, and their children, near Moscow, Idaho.
by Robert Wrigley
I wasn’t paying attention to the task at hand, I guess.
I’d angled forward to watch the beautiful young mother
three booths left shift her pink swaddled infant
arm to arm and her standing toddler boy
from one deft and patient hand to the other.
She caught me at my stare and smiled. She must have
noticed we wore the same good
quixotic candidate’s hopeless campaign pin.
But just then, the citizen I’d been waiting for
rushed from the voting booth
like a rodeo bull from its Friday night catch pen,
and so close was I, he clapped me exactly
in the nose with his balding pate, and snorted.
I was silent as the blood burbled out,
and he was already barreling off toward
the sky blue and newly-fettered confines of the dark republic we’d become.
So covering my face with a red bandanna,
I stepped in and pulled the curtain closed. I’d been thinking
of a split ticket, for some reason, though now,
out of simple pique or pure American patriotism,
I voted, yet again, a straight ticket. So there I was then,
outside, seeming to myself at least
a hero in the contact sport of democracy, my fellow voters making room
to let me pass my bloody way among them, but I didn’t move.
Instead, I looked to where the beautiful young mother,
my good comrade, had been. It was her toddler boy I spotted first,
slapping the blue curtain behind her back and forth,
his baby sister cupped on mother’s left forearm like a football.
She had the boy’s hips locked between her knees to prevent escape.
He was a little prisoner, but happy to be there.
“Mommy!” he yelled, throwing the curtain back, and “Mommy!”
throwing it closed again. A campaign slogan, it sounded like,
from a little man enjoying the best the nation could offer
and offering his own in return. “Mommy!”
he shouted,”Mommy!” His vote.