Charles Harper Webb2017-12-10T23:33:15-08:00

Charles Harper Webb

Biblical Also-Rans

Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, Carmi,
Jemuel, Ohad, Zohar, Shuni:
one Genesis mention’s all you got.

Ziphion, Muppim, Arodi: lost
in a list even the most devout skip over
like small towns on the road to L.A.

How tall were you, Shillim?
What was your favorite color, Ard?
Did you love your wife, Iob?

Not even her name survives.
Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain-
these are the stars crowds surge to see.

Each hour thousands of Josephs,
Jacobs, Benjamins are born.
How many Oholibamahs? How many



It’s okay if the world goes with Venetian;
Who cares what Italians don’t see?
Or with Man’s Bluff (a temporary problem
Healed by shrieks and cheating)-or with date:
Three hours of squirming repaid by laughs for years.

But when an old woman, already deaf,
Wakes from a night of headaches, and the dark
Won’t disappear-when doctors call like tedious
Birds, “If only…” up and down hospital halls-
When, long-distance, I hear her say, “Don’t worry.

Honey, I’ll be fine,”


The day after a door crushes his thumb,
the stain that flutters out of his cuticle-
looks, at first, like a black squid
floating up through a pink sea. Then,
poised above the nail’s half-moon,
it seems a black burka with a white
slot through which dark pupils stare.

“Her face is scarred,” he thinks.
“She wears the burka to spare me.”
Then he thinks the eyes are Mom’s-
not crazed, as in the nursing home.
Forgiving. Warm. Or they

Call Bright Smile

Imagine: sparkling white teeth in just one visit!

Wonderful to yawn and feel the sheen
blaze off incisors bright enough
to start prairie fires, signal

cavalry, lure women (fluttering)
to the klieg-light of my smile.
And not just women. Scintillating

so, I’ll surge ahead at work.
One radiant word, and men will fall
prostrate, awaiting my commands.

They’ll fight to buy me lunch,
take me to ball games, get me in
their country clubs, and pay my


“Don’t overdo it,” Dad yelled, watching me
Play shortstop, collect stamps and shells,
Roll on the grass laughing until I peed my pants.
“Screw him,” I said, and grabbed every cowry

I could find, hogged all the books I could
From Heights Library, wore out the baseball
Diamond dawn to dusk, and-parents in Duluth-
Gorged on bountiful Candy dusk to dawn.

Not until a Committee wrote of my poems,
“Enthusiasm should be tempered,”
Did I change my song. I

Giant Fungus

40-acre growth found in Michigan.
— The Los Angeles Times

The sky is full of ruddy ducks
and widgeon’s, mockingbirds,
bees, bats, swallowtails,
dragonflies, and great horned owls.

The land below teems with elands
and kit foxes, badgers, aardvarks,
juniper, banana slugs, larch,
cactus, heather, humankind.

Under them, a dome of dirt.
Under that, the World’s
Largest Living Thing spreads
like a hemorrhage poised

to paralyze the earth—like a tumor
ready to cause 9.0 convulsions,
or a brain dreaming this world
of crickets and dung beetles,


How to Live

“I don’t know how to live.” –Sharon Olds

Eat lots of steak and salmon and Thai curry and mu shu
pork and fresh green beans and baked potatoes
and fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream.
Kick-box three days a week. Stay strong and lean.
Go fly-fishing every chance you get, with friends

who’ll teach you secrets of the stream. Play guitar
in a rock band. Read Dostoyevsky, Whitman, Kafka,
Shakespeare, Twain. Collect Uncle Scrooge comics.
See Peckinpah’s

I Love Her So Madly

want so much to please, that when she complains of my leaving dandruff
on the sheets, whiskers in the sink, pee on the toilet seat, I build a
large black plastic cube to live inside.

Five pin-sized air-holes and a straw through which I sip protein drinks
are my sole contact with the world in which my dear one shines.

I’ve learned to re-absorb my wastes, and will away my beard. Since, in
the dark

Kid Fight

The words that yellowjacket in
from right field, raise hot welts
on Erik’s brain—words aimed

at him and his friends, who seem
linked to him by invisible skin.
The words sting worse

because the one releasing them
defiles the game-can’t catch,
throw, or hit the small white sun

that Erik orbits night and day.
“Aiden!” he screams, just
like his coaches do. “Get

your head back in the game.”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Aiden rages-
unjust as school-yard “monitors”

with their yellow slips

Loving a House

Sandi doesn’t like Dan much, but loves his house.
She comes over before he’s home from work, to gaze into its window-eyes.

She wheedles her own key. (“That’s good,’ Dan thinks. “We’re getting
close.”) Now she can visit when he isn’t there to interrupt as her bare feet
caress the hardwood floors, as her hands linger on gleaming knobs and
faucets, as she strokes the long, smooth balustrade, and explores every
chamber of this

Ninja Toads

“Victory is a fat pullet that, if it knows you want it,
runs,” Sensei declares. “But if you sidle up,
pretending to read an exposé about, say, JFK
and Marilyn Manson, you can leap, catch the bird,
and wring its neck.” Sensei prepares us for that leap

of faith. With proper training, he insists, a big ninja
can beat a half-pint tax attorney in a fight.
“When Short Stuff tries some fancy foot-sweep, grab
his face, and

Post-Vacation Tristesse

The Jumbo Jet has barely shuddered off
The ground, and I’m depressed. My scuba mask
And fins, my fly rod and beach hat

Crush each other in an overhead locker
Dark as the bedroom closet they’re returning to.
Already the week’s good times melt

Together like caramels in a hot car.
My vow to “Do this more often!” recedes
With the jade palms and sun-stroked beaches

I can barely see through my scratched window
As the pilot thanks us

Reservations Confirmed

The ticket settles on my desk: a paper tongue
pronouncing “Go away;” a flattened seed
from which a thousand-mile leap through the air can grow.

It’s pure potential: a vacation-to-be
the way an apple is a pie-to-be,-
a bullet is a death-to-be. Or is the future

pressed into it inalterably—woven between
the slick fibers like secret threads
from the U.S. Treasury? Is my flight number

already flashing as cameras grind and the newly-
bereaved moan? Or does it gleam

Silent Letters

Treacherous as trap door spiders,
they ambush children’s innocence.
“Why is there g h in light? It isn’t fair!”
Buddha declared the world illusory
as the p sound in psyche. Sartre-
said the same of God from France,
Olympus of silent letters, n’est -ce pas?

Polite conceals an e in the same way
“How are you?” hides “I don’t care.”
Physics asserts the desk I lean on,
the brush that fluffs my hair,
are only dots that punctuate a nullity


Don’t say these dolphins leap and twist
to shake off parasites. Don’t say they crash
simply to stun some anchovy or smelt,

then bolt the body down. Don’t say
their triple Tsukahara’s are only exuberance
of slaughter, elation at feeding

and/or sexual success, frothing over
into loops, flips, pirouettes. Don’t say
this cruise-ship auctioneer fakes

taking frantic calls, jabbing a cell
phone at his helpers, snarling, “Say
the auction’s started. She’s too late!”

Don’t say his Rembrandts, Matisses,
Chagalls are


Its silver clasp looks like a man grasping
his hands above his head in victory;
the latches, like twin hatchbacks headed away.

There are no wheels, just four steel nipples for sliding.
A hexagonal seal announces the defunct
“U.S. Trunk Company.” The frame is wood-

big, heavy, cheap—covered with imitation leather,
its blue just slightly darker than Mom’s eyes.
“It’s beautiful. Much too expensive,” she told Dad,

and kissed him. The lining is pink, quilted
acetate. Three sides have

The Animals are Leaving

One by one, like guests at a late party
They shake our hands and step into the dark:
Arabian ostrich; Long-eared kit fox; Mysterious starling.

One by one, like sheep counted to close our eyes,
They leap the fence and disappear into the woods:
Atlas bear; Passenger pigeon; North Island laughing owl;
Great auk; Dodo; Eastern wapiti; Badlands bighorn sheep.

One by one, like grade school friends,
They move away and fade out of memory:
Portuguese ibex; Blue

The Death of Santa Claus

He’s had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don’t make house
calls to the North Pole,

he’s let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it’s only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won’t

stop squeezing. He can’t
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the

The Wife of The Mind

Sharecroppers’ child, she was more schooled
In slaughtering pigs and coaxing corn out of
The ground than in the laws of Math, the rules
Of Grammar. Seventeen, she fell in love
With the senior quarterback, and nearly
Married him, but—the wedding just a week
Away—drove her trousseau back to Penney’s,
Then drove on past sagging fences, flooding creeks,
And country bars to huge Washington State,
Where, feeling like a hick, she studied French to compensate.

She graduated middle-of-her-class,
Managed a

Troublesome Tea

Preachers died here-a whole synod-so we fire-fighters
pound flames reverently. We look away from TV

cameras, whispering Barney Rubble to quell laughter
as, in a gold swirl of sparks, the charred roof falls.

Experts say it’s healing to speak about race. But
the more people speak, the louder they yell, the more

guns appear and spit their obdurate communications.
Soon no one recalls the horses’ names, or what

the Exacta paid. Talk-about-sex is just as bad. The

What We Believe

Jesus was not the Son of God. He was a yogi
who tranced out on the cross – a fanatic like Jim
Jones or David Koresh, with better publicity.

President Kennedy was killed by the Cubans,
the Russians, the C.I.A.; Lee Harvey Oswald
was paid to take the fall. A group of evil

scientists created AIDS to wipe out Blacks,
dope addicts, homosexuals. Drug companies
quash cures to keep their profits high.

God is a Big Man with