We’ve worked so hard to stand upright

Two poems by Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb’s latest, Brain Camp, was published in 2015.
  • Charles Harper Webb’s latest, Brain Camp, was published in 2015.

Pen Balanced on a Window Frame

  • Who stood it upright on its rounded end:
  • tiny obelisk, or rocket poised for space?
  • Was it placed to overlook the library’s
  • universe of books, the grass outside
  • sprouting white seeds countless as stars
  • while, under cherry-blossom constellations,
  • Spring winds whisked Fall leaves away?
  • Did it rise here to defy gravity’s law?
  • Is it a monument to ignorance,
  • and therefore stands in a university?
  • Is it a skill-display, like a one-armed
  • hand-stand — or a prank, like a glass
  • of milk upside down on a desk?
  • Last night, I called my son “Bad
  • boy,” and made him cry. But how
  • could he — new to this world — not think
  • our drab beige wall improved
  • by room-length blue curlicues from the pen
  • he’s seen so often in my hand? Did
  • his ecstatic scrawls track some electron’s
  • wandering, or all creation, rushing out
  • from the Big Bang? Has he materialized
  • this balanced pen to say my lack of vision
  • won’t unbalance him? To suggest I leave
  • childish tantrums behind, and pray,
  • by this miracle aimed at the sky,
  • “Father of Wonders, forgive me”?

The Crawl

  • “Dunk our heads in water? Teacher —
  • do you want to make us dead?”
  • the Pollywog class wails in body-
  • language, heads thrust skyward,
  • bent legs running, arms flailing
  • like dogs burying ham-bones
  • beneath the chlorinated blue.
  • “Why make us wallow through
  • what we were meant to drink?”
  • their scared looks cry, tossing eye-
  • grenades at parents forced to watch
  • like witnesses around The Chair.
  • “We’ve worked so hard to stand
  • upright. Why should we crawl
  • again?” they say. And why
  • should they trust us — noosed by neckties,
  • choked by panty-hose?
  • Better to imitate our poodle,
  • Bidet, who, flung into a pool,
  • dog-paddles out, head high,
  • then shakes off the whole
  • degraded water-grovel
  • in a shower that howls, loud
  • as any wolf, “No bloody way!”

Charles Harper Webb’s latest book, Brain Camp, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015. A Million MFAs Are Not Enough, a book 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.

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