Charles Harper Webb






Don't walk into them!  Your mother loved the pitter-patter
Of your feet, but she is not (I hope) a sea anemone.

Leave "empty" shells in the water.  Drug-dealers, rapists,
And identity-thieves may hide inside.  

Replace all rocks and broken coral you move.  
Investment bankers, lawyers, and pedophile priests are sensitive to
    light and drying.  Disturbed, they may die.

Hurling rocks into the sea gives nudibranchs and P.E. coaches
Excuse and ammo to assault the world.

Feeding time-share salesmen heightens their aggressiveness.  
Leave these creatures to their natural diet of algae, sea slugs,
    and volcanic sand.

Don't offer morays—however sinuous and frilled, mottled with
    purple, black, and gold—a job in the U.S., much less a little
    place on the West Side.  
My father waited twenty years to get here legally, and worked
    as a sled-dog till he died.  Why shouldn’t they?  

Nerites are round black snails that cluster in the wave-splash zone
    of failing mega-stores.  
They're honest and enthusiastic, but make shoppers think of shingles
and black plague.  

Octopi are shell-less mollusks with physicist IQ's.  
Fluid as water, they can squeeze into anywhere, and change colors
    faster than you change your mind.  

Some inject a poison that makes people fall for Scientologists.  
Play chess or patty cake with an octopus, you’ll understand the Ray
    Charles classic, “Born to Lose.”



For failing to scrape the yolk and cheese OFF
FATHER'S plate, Ginger is forced to kiss
THE FAMILY'S armored man  

Raised on the brink of Hollywood and Grime,
        she lives as if her life’s a sitcom: Jellied Socks.
She calls herself Our Hero, and yells FADE IN
        before cascading into rooms.  She tries to save fellow

actors some good lines; but if a laugh is to be had,
        or a bed to flop onto, in tears . . . Stand back!  
Inserting her stage-name—Scintilla, edging
        toward Scarlotta on bad-acne days—she prints tabloid

covers on a press from Daddy’s counterfeiting shop:
        _____’s Hubby Caught Cheating;  _____
and Cindy’s Deadly Feud; Prison Gang Targets _____.
         "Life's not all milk and homily," she proclaims  

to hide her fear that Jellied will flop, big.
        In her one love scene, she’s chased by hermit
crabs who whip her with their long, white beards.  
        Ninth-grade graduation cuts from blackhead-popping

at the mirror, to Dim’s Diner, catsup in her hair.  
        Did she catch the diploma they airplaned at her,
or was she pelted off the stage?  Her “archives”
        are porno titles glued to Teletubby episodes.  

The armored man has guarded her since she was born.
        He’s seen her in her pink peejays with bunny feet.  
“They'll wish they'd never set us up,” she thinks,
        clanking, in his iron arms, down the sullen street.



Even as we drop our cluster-bombs, and claim
supremacy, we're on our psychic knees.  
Don't tax us too much, Government.  Don't
make us spread our legs, or snicker when we do.  

Don't run me down, 18-wheeler.  Don’t
homestead in me, Disease.  And then
there's God (or gods, wyrd, fate, kismet,
the Yawning Void).  Do this for me, I beg, O

Great Whatever.  Don't do that, I implore.  
I love You more, so drop the biggest chunk
of fat into my gruel.  Keep knitting-needles
from my brain, poisoned apples from my craw.  

Let me drive a Mercedes or high-end Lexus,
and not fear mechanics’ fees.  Make my kids
love me.  True, I spilled blue Gatorade
on your 1200-year-old Afghan rug,

but don't spank me.  Forgive my strangling
those boys.  See how we all crab-crawl to hug
Death’s bony knees?  Make an exception,
we beg.  This once . . .  Pretty please . . .




Charles Harper Webb's latest book, What Things Are Made Of, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.