Issue > Poetry
Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb's latest book, Brain Camp, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015. A Million MFAs Are Not Enough, a book of essays on contemporary American poetry, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2016. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.  

"A Good Stick"

If it's lying in a field, in a woods,
            or on a street; if it leans against
a lamp-post or a tree; if waves
            wash it onto a beach, or a creek

dandles it as a boy jogs by,
              he's sure to grab, and test
its weight—to slice it through the air
              to hear its swoosh—  

to whack it on a wall, smack it
              on water, use it as a flail to hack
down weeds.  He'll hurl it to see
           how deep it stabs, how true
it flies.  He'll bend it to see
              if it springs back. He'll try it
as a staff or cane, though (yet)
              he has no need of one.  

He'll poke and pry, piñata-smash
              some wasp-nest overhead,
or skewer empty air, ecstatic
              he can reach so high.  

If another boy has a stick,
              they'll compare lengths,  
then sword-fight to test their pith,
              and their sticks' too.  

"Who loves a good stick?"
              the camp counselor asks his boys.
Arms lift like tules in the lake—  
              the nearest bare, the farthest back

furred with dark hair, as if they've just
              left the deep woods,
or dropped from the high shelter
              of trees.

"The Poet's Job Is to Refresh the Language"

                    —Percy Bysshe Shelley

I speak a word;
it lights—
a glass bird—
in my hand.

I dust it, spray
with Windex,
dry, then
set it free

for those
who need it,
but will never
hear of me.


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