Charles Harper Webb’s latest book, What Things Are Made Of, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013. He is the author of Shadow Ball (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) and Amplified Dog (Red Hen Press, 2006). He earned a BA in English from Rice University, an MA in English from the University of Washington, and an MFA in professional writing and a PhD in counseling psychology from USC. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.
In the beginning was the Word
Scientists agree that it was “Bang,”
roared in a voice so big it blew the universe
out of a hole tinier than the smallest germ.
No wonder Erik—twenty-pound image
of God—is so well pleased with his first word:
“Cat,” blurted one day in our back yard
when Kiki, our Abyssinian, charged by,
chasing a maple leaf. No wonder
Erik thought he’d called her into being,
and when he sees her now, explodes “CAT,”
proud as if he’s created a world.
No wonder he learns new words—
cool, yuck, car, play—since the first
packed so much punch, his mom and me
applauding like angels at the Big Guy’s feet.
No wonder Erik runs into the living room,
shouting “SOCK,” and holding one.
No wonder he sees me put on shoes,
points, bellows “SHOE,” laughs with glee,
and runs in circles, power-wild.
No wonder I forget his dripping diapers,
as well as the fishing trips, scuba dives,
and sexy nights his life denies my wife and me
when, as I heat his oatmeal in the kitchen,
he screams “DA-DA,” then bear-hugs
the leg of this adult he’s made. No wonder
I’m proud that, one November night
my wife and I, at the right moment,
both exclaimed with our whole bodies,
ART OF THE COMPLAINT
It does no good to scream, call names, threaten to sue;
your abuser has heard it all before.
Write, instead, a sonata full of unresolved
chords and dissonance; then play it for the miscreant,
and his supervisor, too. Sculpt the image
of your outrage in marble or bronze.
The innkeeper with no record
of Rodin’s reservation, and no vacancies,
received “The Thinker” soon after the turnaway.
The Pieta was Michelangelo’s reponse
to a coachman who drove him to the Sistine Chapel
the long way. Handed to a C.E.O.,
the right painting works wonders.
(Avoid the urge to black out teeth or add goatees.)
“The Scream” got Munch a free meal
at the restaurant that burned his steak.
It sacked the waiter who swore, “This is medium.”
A tomahawk to Boss’s head may satisfy
in the short run, but won’t get your job back.
A paper trail, naming names, could work as well
as The Inferno worked for Dante—
as the Old Testament worked for God—
as I hope, cruel Beauty,
this poem works for me on you.