Feature > Poetry
Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb

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.
I first heard my friend Kurt Brown read “Global Warming” when I shared the bill with him at The Ruskin House Reading Series in LA, just a few months before his death. (Neither of us dreamed...) I was struck then, as I’m struck now, by the modest, meandering way that Kurt sneaks up on and captures the largest of subjects: the devastation of our paradise-on-Earth, and the likely end of what another fine poet called “our little life.” I love the way Kurt revels in twenty-first century American stuff—drunk celebrations, other people’s poems, melting icecaps on Discovery Channel, newswomen who couple pretty smiles with bad, bad news. I love Kurt’s understanding of science, his empathy and kindness, and the generous expansiveness of his mind. I love his admonition at the end of “Global Warming": “Savor these incomparable days.” Even now, past the end of his incomparable life, that’s what Kurt Brown helps me to do.

Global Warming

I've been waiting to write a poem about the icecaps,
wondering how to make myself care. It's so huge, this event, like God,
not really anywhere, yet everywhere at once, so hard to grasp
which is why the newspapers go on clucking about political correctness
while pundits let us know that the latest research indicates
the South Beach diet may not be that effective, or even good for us,
and human cloning may soon be a fact, but is it ethical and should we pursue it?

I remember once in Colorado, after a night of carousing, my friends
and I stumbled through town, arms linked, yelling at the top of our lungs:
"The icecaps are melllllting! The icecaps are melllllting!"
each of us a drunken Paul Revere, though we woke no one up,
not a window blazed in that sleeping village, and the next morning
frost spangled the meadows and blood pounded in our heads
the way people in cheap hotels pummel the walls, demanding quiet.

In my poem birds circle a dead seal on the ice, its blood leaking
out into the snow the way strawberries crushed against linen
spread from thread to thread until the original stain is ten times larger
than when it began and birds wheel above, shrieking, waiting for the body to bloat,
then burst, its hidden delicacies exposed until the bones,
clean and ribbed as ice, blend into the snowpack.

Every day, huge hunks split off and plunge into the sea, which has been filmed,
you can watch it on Discovery Channel between promos for "Living Predators
of the African Veldt" and "The Golden Treasures of Tutankhamun."
It's like watching the demolition of an enormous building
which will have catastrophic consequences for every creature on earth,
including micro-life—nits, mites, diatoms, bacilli—the chemical structure
of their tiny world shifting in a cataclysm of infinite degrees
but just enough to swathe them in a genocidal broth of heat and saline.

Still the pretty young newswoman smiles as she assays the weather map:
"This has been the warmest winter on record," she purrs, making it sound
so reassuring, so fortunate. "Savor these days," she says, and laughs.
Such a gorgeous messenger—no demon or witch, no Sybil—
not even some awe-inspiring angel descending in a blast of light
to make its announcement.

                                           But it's worse than nuclear war,
it's irreversible and planetary which is why the peak of Kilimanjaro is now mud,
and Venice takes another stride into the sea. Such a beautiful catastrophe, tipping towards
Eden, then farther, into the desert which in a hundred years will be almost everywhere
and whoever's left will be living at the poles about to vanish into light at the edge
of the horizon. Unfortunate explorers. Savor these incomparable days.