Monday Apr 22

WebbCharles Harper Charles Harper Webb's latest book, Brain Camp, was published in 2015 by the University of Pittsburgh Press, which will publish his next collection, Sidebend World, in Fall 2018, A Million MFAs Are Not Enough, a collection of essays on contemporary American poetry, was published by Red Hen Press in 2016. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.


House Centipede

My first one looked, as gray dawn crawled
                        across my eyes, like a chorus-line
of spiders on the ceiling, set to fall
               and fang me in my bed. No wonder
I submerged the monster in a Black Flag slough.

Anything so multi-legged and bristly
                        had to have a horror-name: Death’s-head
helldangler, say, or septic shadow-creeper.
               Who’d have guessed house centipede,
as if each house comes, cozy, with its own?

Alien as the gulper eel (all mouth
                        and dangling tapeworm-gut), house
centipedes could have crash-landed
               on Earth, speaking in isotopes of oxygen.
What relief, H.C., to crack open

California Bugs, and find you
                        are a shy recluse, harmless to humans,
though deadly to spiders: your favored prey.
               Small savior who, traversing the TV
like a one-bug parade, made my son

annunciate, “Daddy! Him!”—death
                        to the black widow and brown recluse.
Long live your rowing legs, your speed
               when startled, whirring quick as a breeze
across the carpet when, up for a midnight sip,

I flick the light. (Don’t crawl too close
                        to my bed, please.) May your hunting
prosper, frilled protector. May you fatten
               on my enemies. May we share this house
in peace.

All Happiness Comes from Attachment
—For Dan

The billion books moldering in Philly’s
Public Library, the scarred oak desk
where your wife-to-be loaned you
Strike It Rich Fixing TVs—let them go.

Cling, though, to breast-stroking
at Cayuga Lake, toweling each other
in the lodge. Cling to the swarms of leaves,
scorched orange by Autumn’s flame,

that slapped your rented home in Albany.
Cling to your own three-bedroom
ranch-style in Poughkeepsie, and your kids,
though they live “way out in LA,”

and rarely call. A lizard hunched
under hot Mojave sand can never miss
swinging through trees ablaze
with mangos, or slicing sapphire skies

with emerald wings. If we must die
of thirst, better first to drink our fill.
Better struck dumb than never to have had
our say.

Dangers of Drunkenness

            “Always be drunk.”
                        —Charles Baudelaire

Spaghetti-drunkenness makes people sing
               Puccini off-key in the streets.
                        Summer’s heat-drunkenness can fry, bake,

poach, or roast you. Dirt-drunkenness
               is worst in spring. The drunk stops hoeing
                        to inhale clods broken down by winter's

flight, sings, "O What A Beautiful Morning,"
               dust-bathes, naked as a sparrow, or mud-grazes
                        till the lungs fill and suffocation comes.

Love-drunkenness floods the mind
               with fantasies which, dashed or realized,
                        can lead to bankruptcy and suicide.

Poetry-drunks black out over Keats’ odes,
               or rave in coffee shops for hours,
                        plagued by delusions of significance.

Skyscraper-drunkenness ends in a bloody
               splat, or rescue by helicopter as the drunk
                        struggles to gulp a penthouse down.

Water-drunkenness comes when a single mom—
               hoping, say, to win a radio contest
                        and buy a Play Station for her kids—

drinks so much water that her body’s
               saline balance slips, staggers, falls hard.
                        She drives home with a screaming

headache, brain cells drowning, so to speak;
               then she dies, leaving three orphans,
                        and the contest-organizers prey

to lawyer-drunkenness—more painful,
               worse for the liver, and more common now
                        than any other kind.

After the Reunion, a Roaring Jolts Me Out of Sleep

No flash of bombs. No smoke or flames as—half-sloshed,
pants three-quarters up—I bump and flail down the dark
dormitory hall to where, as if Cerberus’ three heads have all claimed
the same chew-toy, the restroom spews a hellish bellowing.

I bound forward to berate some fat, fur-backed custodian,
then see the culprit. Not slim, true. Not good-looking
in blue pants and yellow sweatshirt, brown hair
in a ragged bun. Head down, she can’t hear me above

her floor-scrubber’s roar. Flab-festooned arms shake
as she shoves the scrub-machine, and ponders—Bills? Kids?
Lab tests? Faithless men? Does she nurse worry as my mother did
(and passed her fretfulness to me)? Does she conjure memories

the way, last night, I called up chords I hadn’t played in forty years,
and words my teenaged hormones memorized for me?
“Hello darkness, my old friend . . .” “Only in dreams . . .”
To this day, in dreams, Mom tells me Bless your heart.

My sister quacks, I've got a speech impediwar;
Dad shoves his Lawnboy, chanting, Kojak! Come back!
with a goofy grin. In dreams, summer still means home-run
derby, cannonballs at White Oak pool, girls in short-shorts,

their curves stamped into memory the way “Hot Legs,”
“Twist and Shout,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
left footprints all over my brain. Maybe this woman's
at her prom, beaming as her first love pins on her first corsage . . .

Oh, let her stay! Let her floor-scrubber blast me back
into my room. Let it heap blankets of din over my head.
Let its screaming engine launch my lumpy freshman bed
back to the welcoming orbit of my dreams.