Charles Harper Webb's 11th collection of poems, Brain Camp, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches in the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.
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 more
directions my love gives, the flimsier desire grows.
Logic, like prostatitis, just makes matters worse.
Flowerpots bash my stucco walls for no reason.
My gate flaps open without wind. Mr. Woo, my herbalist,
sells me a "healing" ginseng tea contaminated
with toad skin meant for a heart stimulant, ch'an su.
My heartbeat’s stronger, but I turn a slimy green,
with red spots that spell, in Bittern, “Don't eat me.”
I puff my throat out like a bagpipe in the rain,
and skirl love songs as the swamp shivers and drools.
When I wake, my love has clipped my fingernails
and left me a bill for a manicure, plus all the trimmings.
“When I swore to help you Be all that you can be,
I thought it would be more,” she weeps as woodpeckers
assault my authentic Kwakiutl totem pole
from Franklin Mint. Now, in a haze of bufotoxin
and evaporating dreams, the city floats like an armada
on concrete. Or an armoire. Or a suit of armor—
the one I should have worn when my love and I sat
down to discuss our “dyadistic imago,” which was
"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 crush! If he tries a crotch kick, tear off
his grasshopper-leg! If he's too fast, let him outrun a .45."
Sparring done, we grip each other's tongues and pull
for a good stretch. We tie dumbbells to the tips, and practice
curls, or flick opponents' faces from across the dojo,
while in the next room—gnashing mouth parts, rubbing
legs like eager hands—Big Toshiro waits: the Sumo Fly.