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Charles Harper Webb

March

THE EARTH seems a desolate mother,—
Betrayed like the princess of old,
The ermine stripped from her shoulders,
And her bosom all naked and cold.

But a joy looks out from her sadness,
For she feels with a glad unrest
The throb of the unborn summer
Under her bare, brown breast

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Against Indifference

MORE love or more disdain I crave;
   Sweet, be not still indifferent:
O send me quickly to my grave,
   Or else afford me more content!
Or love or hate me more or less,
For love abhors all lukewarmness.

Give me a tempest if 'twill drive
   Me to the place where I would be;
Or if you'll have me still alive,
   Confess you will be kind to me.
Give hopes of bliss or dig my grave:
More love or more disdain I crave.

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Post-Vacation Tristesse

The Jumbo Jet has barely shuddered off
The ground, and I'm depressed. My scuba mask
And fins, my fly rod and beach hat

Crush each other in an overhead locker
Dark as the bedroom closet they're returning to.
Already the week's good times melt

Together like caramels in a hot car.
My vow to "Do this more often!" recedes
With the jade palms and sun-stroked beaches

I can barely see through my scratched window
As the pilot thanks us for "flying
United," and climbs through ectoplasmic

Clouds into the jet stream that circles
Earth's head like a tedious tune,
And like a kick in the rear, hustles us

[...] Read more

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Giant Fungus

40-acre growth found in Michigan.
— The Los Angeles Times


The sky is full of ruddy ducks
and widgeon's, mockingbirds,
bees, bats, swallowtails,
dragonflies, and great horned owls.

The land below teems with elands
and kit foxes, badgers, aardvarks,
juniper, banana slugs, larch,
cactus, heather, humankind.

Under them, a dome of dirt.
Under that, the World's
Largest Living Thing spreads
like a hemorrhage poised

to paralyze the earth—like a tumor

[...] Read more

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The Death Of Santa Claus

He's had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don't make house
calls to the North Pole,

he's let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it's only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won't

stop squeezing. He can't
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

[...] Read more

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Blind

It's okay if the world goes with Venetian;
Who cares what Italians don't see?--
Or with Man's Bluff (a temporary problem
Healed by shrieks and cheating)--or with date:
Three hours of squirming repaid by laughs for years.

But when an old woman, already deaf,
Wakes from a night of headaches, and the dark
Won't disappear--when doctors call like tedious
Birds, "If only..." up and down hospital halls--
When, long-distance, I hear her say, "Don't worry.

Honey, I'll be fine," is it a wonder
If my mind speeds down blind alleys?
If the adage "Love is blind" has never seemed
So true? If, in a flash of blinding light
I see Justice drop her scales, yank off

Her blindfold, stand revealed--a monster-god
With spidery arms and a mouth like a black hole--

[...] Read more

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The Wife of the Mind

Sharecroppers' child, she was more schooled
In slaughtering pigs and coaxing corn out of
The ground than in the laws of Math, the rules
Of Grammar. Seventeen, she fell in love
With the senior quarterback, and nearly
Married him, but—the wedding just a week
Away—drove her trousseau back to Penney's,
Then drove on past sagging fences, flooding creeks,
And country bars to huge Washington State,
Where, feeling like a hick, she studied French to compensate.

She graduated middle-of-her-class,
Managed a Senior Center while she flailed
Away at an M.A., from the morass
Of which a poet/rock-singer from Yale
Plucked her. He loved her practicality;
She adored his brilliance. Sex was great.
They married in a civil ceremony.
He played around, for which she berated
Herself, telling friends things were "hunky-dory."

[...] Read more

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Gil, the Toreador

THE QUEEN sat in her balcony,
The Loveliest of Spain;
Beneath rode all the chivalry,
And roses fell like rain
To crown the gallant gentlemen
The gonfalon who bore:
A woman’s favor fell for one,—
Gil, the Toreador.

Beneath the royal canopy,
To see the red bull slain,
They sat, like loyal lovers,
The King and Queen of Spain.
Came marshal, noble, knight and squire,
Chulo and picador:
Of all a woman saw but one,—
Gil, the Toreador.

The trumpets clanged, the sport was on,
The royal sport of Spain;

[...] Read more

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With a Nantucket Shell

I SEND thee a shell from the ocean beach;
But listen thou well, for my shell hath speech.
Hold to thine ear,
And plain thou’lt hear
Tales of ships
That were lost in the rips,
Or that sunk on shoals
Where the bell-buoy tolls,
And ever and ever its iron tongue rolls
In a ceaseless lament for the poor lost souls.

And a song of the sea
Has my shell for thee;
The melody in it
Was hummed at Wauwinet,
And caught at Coatue
By the gull that flew
Outside to the ship with its perishing crew.
But the white wings wave
Where none may save,

[...] Read more

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Suitcase

Its silver clasp looks like a man grasping
his hands above his head in victory;
the latches, like twin hatchbacks headed away.

There are no wheels, just four steel nipples for sliding.
A hexagonal seal announces the defunct
"U.S. Trunk Company." The frame is wood—

big, heavy, cheap—covered with imitation leather,
its blue just slightly darker than Mom's eyes.
"It's beautiful. Much too expensive," she told Dad,

and kissed him. The lining is pink, quilted
acetate. Three sides have pouches with elastic tops—
stretched out now, like old underwear.

I watched Mom pack them with panties and brassieres
when I was so little she didn't blush.
The right front corner has been punctured and crushed.

[...] Read more

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