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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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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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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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