Three Poems

by Charles Harper Webb

Barbarians

 “ . . . what shall become of us without barbarians?”
 —C.P. Cavafy

Lank-haired, logger-bearded, Josh and I shove
 into Sudsucker’s Pub like hungry bears
down from the hills. Normally, we’d shun
 this den of cooler dudes than we.
But we’ve lived two weeks in Canadian woods—

slept in my truck, wolfed fresh-caught
 Kamloops trout, Life cereal, Wonder Bread,
speaking, for laughs, like Conan the Barbarian:
 swearing by Crom, who metes out dooms
from his great mountain—who hates weaklings,

and gives his people only courage, plus
 the strength and will to kill their enemies.
We’ve done our biz under towering evergreens,
 ransacked an old fishing lodge, and seized
what pleased us, leaving the rest to rot and feed

the fragrant pines. Now, feeling tall
 and hard as pines, we scorn these frat boys
and yuppies hot to bed the coeds,
 secretaries, and receptionists who sip “Slow,
Comfortable Screws Against the Wall,”

and try to think they’re living high.
 Two beauties—Blonde and Brunette—do
the coo-and-tease with polo-shirted frat guys:
 a freckled red-head; a dark-haired pretty-boy.
“By Crom,” I say, catching the blonde’s eye,

“you’re a bright fish in white water.” “True,”
 says Josh. “And you”—the brunette—
“bear twin mountains fetchingly.” “Who
 are you assholes talking to?” snarls Pretty Boy.
“A miracle,” I say. “The dumb shall speak.”

I can’t believe we’re doing this; but
 after weeks of practice, words flow easily.
“Tell me,” Josh asks Red. “What is best in life?”
 “What the fuck?” he replies. “The fuck
is good,” Josh says. “Best, though, is to crush

your enemies, see them driven before you,
 and hear the wails of their women.”
“Hear that shit?” Pretty Boy asks Red.
 “You fags best boogie while you can,”
Red sneers, then pushes Josh. I raise my hand.

“Stay,” I command. “Let’s step outside and see
 whose deeds shine mightiest.” “They’re crazy,”
the blonde says, and shoots a scorching look.
 “No sweat,” Red says, flexing his fists.
“We’ll clean their clocks. Be back before

you can say shit.” “They’ll clean our cocks,”
 Josh calls, “before they eat our shit.”
Outside, we’re wrapped in Stygian mist.
 “Sorry, guys,” Josh begins, “I don’t know what
got into me,” then crotch-kicks Pretty Boy,

who drops and writhes. My kick—astonishing
 to me as to Red—barely clips his hip.
He staggers. I scream, and swinging war-ax fists,
 rain on him my rage at cities that kill
wilderness—at mobs that trample fish,

animals, birds—at lawyers, politicians,
 brokers, bureaucrats who prate, remit,
accrue, abate, comply—the rich, popular,
 lucky, whom I see, clear as a hawk
in mountain sky, will always lord it over me.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Josh yanks me off of Red,
 then runs. My frenzy drops like a swiped coat.
“Cops could come,” I think, and—Jekyll
 breaking free from Hyde—hammer for home.
When, in a week, I start my first job—teaching

8th-grade History—my hair will be short;
 my knuckles, healed. Tonight, I slink
toward sleep while Crom the Merciless, who scorns
 all prayers, does not attack from his mountain—
just spits my way, and turns his muscled back.