Two Poems

by Charles Harper Webb

OTHER LIVES

Not long after, in this life, I closed my guitar
case for good, an A & R man from Arista—
his plane to LA. delayed—drops into Seattle’s
Embers for a drink. And stay, and stays . . .

Halfway through Practicum in Psychotherapy,
I leap out of my beanbag chair. “We’re doing surgery
with stream-rollers,” I scream, and head North,
where I work as a fishing guide, court backwoods
girls, but marry the Great Trout Stream . . .

A last growth-spurt takes me to 5’11”, 175—
enough to make the college baseball team.
I’m no Derek Jeter, no Pee Wee Reese, but I out-
hustle everyone and, at shortstop, lead
Houston’s Astros to their first World Series victory. . .

Of course I also have a life where my pipe-
cleaner spine bends me into a side show . . .
one where Linda’s boyfriend brings, besides
his fists, his dad’s shotgun, and I don’t see 17 . . .
one where I torture kittens, drop out of 7th grade,
and marry a 300-pound alcoholic lesbian.

In some lives, Julie has our child, and I work
twelve-hour days for nothing but the pay . . .
I strangle in the birth canal . . . I come back,
paralyzed or missing limbs, from Vietnam,
and wars where I’m not even American . . .

more lives than atoms in the stars over
Baltimore on the October night (or was it too
cloudy to see?) when an egg Emily Jewell
had carried for thirty-six years was set upon
by shoals of sperm: millions of vanished futures,
plus one half of me.

* * *

A QUIVERY UPPER LIP

Just as the poem starts running
on its own—just as I’m getting the feel
of the reins, starting to flow
with the rhythm, and enjoy the pounding
in my spine, earth bounding by
under my feet, wind whipping my hair
as the crowd howls—just as I hope
the poem will last forever,
it turns a corner I hadn’t seen
coming, and hammers into the home
stretch. I feel its knees flex, haunches

tensing for the leap that will carry it
into history; and I grow heavy
with regret. The dead weight
of all my losses slows these lines
I can’t prolong much more, even
if I add a pearl mist breathing
off an Alpine lake that mirrors
stands of lodgepole pine. Even if—
especially if—I add the love I’ve never
ceased to miss. She knocks. I throw
open my door, and step into the kiss

I’ve dreamed about, and finally feel now,
in this poem which, like the kiss,
possesses a life of its own, and
a place in my life that will be
over all too soon—this
poem that has to end
(so long) right here.
Right here and
now. Good-
bye. Good-
bye. . .

Charles Harper Webb’s latest book, Shadow Ball: New & Selected Poems, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in Fall 2009. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb directs Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.