Charles Harper Webb is the author of ten books of poetry, including Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems (2009), and What Things Are Made Of (2013), both from the University of Pittsburgh Press.  Editor of Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology, Webb has received the Morse Prize, Pollak Prize, Saltman Prize, and Kate Tufts Discovery Award, as well as grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim Foundations. He teaches at California State University, Long Beach, where he has served as both Director of Creative Writing and MFA Director.

 

 Three poems from What Things Are Made Of:

Liar’s Ball

My wife points to pencil-snarls scrawled on the wall. 
"Erik, who did this?"  "Da-Da!" he pipes cheerfully.
Wham-bam, he's in a chandeliered ballroom with Peter,

who denied Christ; Clinton, who disclaimed Paula;
Arnold Upchurch, who disputes DNA, wailing,
"I didn't do it," as the state's poison pours in.   Hurray—

we're at the Liar’s Ball, where Erik, tuxed by Baby
Gap, is Toddler King.  We wear false faces, and dance
the Duplicity here.  We play Prevaricator's Waltz

in shifting keys.  "Da-Da!" Erik cries to wild applause,
hands raised like goalposts, fibbing's football tumbling
through.  My squawk-puppet's a real boy now.

He’s joined the League of Lying Animals—totem,
the angler fish; mascot, the trap door spider.  He wears
the sacred T-shirt: Adam, whining, “What apple?!" 

"The bosses can hijack your body any time," I tell him. 
"But your mind’s a temple.  Never tell them how you dance
in there."

 

The Best Moment Of My Life

may have been five minutes ago, warm air shurring
through vents above the bed, wife crunching Corn Flakes

in the kitchen, son asleep, an ache in my left ankle
adding just a twinge to foreground the perfection. 

Or maybe it's now, as I press arms above my head—
stretch, groan, then do a slow motion frog-kick

under my white, smooth-as-shave-cream sheets. 
It could have been the time I leaned back in my swing,

and the sky became green grass spears,
while a sky-blue earth took shape under my feet—

or when—Julie on her balcony—I played Romeo
until an orange fireplug tackled me, making her laugh,

then mouth, “I love you" as I sprawled on my back,
and the night, except for one cricket, went still. 

But what can beat right now: bare feet on cool floor
as I pull the blinds, and they squeak open on my son's

red dolphin swing, green froth of shrubbery,
one yellow rose behind the perfumed ear of spring?

 

Sand Fish

It’s said they started in beach sand,
but now it’s Gobi, Sahara, Mojave grit
the fish sift through their gills, absorbing
oxygen and nutrients while swimming
swiftly as their cousins slide through sea. 

They lack all natural enemies—no sand orcas
or seals, sand gulls or pelicans that plunge
into hot dunes to scoop and spear; no sand
fishermen with subterranean hooks and nets;
no sand marlin, sand sharks.  The desert

breeds gentle fish.  (Abundant sun?  Few
clouds?  Some quality of superheated air?) 
Still, they are rare.  The Bedouin who sees one
is called Allah’s Best-Blessed, and can claim
any camel in the tribe.  (This has not happened

in years.)  It's said the sand fish have gone
deep as tuna do, spooked by a ship.  Gone deep,
and learned to slip through rock.  I hope
it’s true, though it means I'll never see one. 
When L.A.’s desert seems hostile to life,

I close my eyes, and sense shapes moving
miles below—megamouth, evolved past
hunger in the stony night; deep-sea anglerfish
with lanterns on their heads that blink like fire-
flies: an intermittent guiding light.

 

Charles Harper Webb

 

 

2013 Charles Harper Webb


 

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