Three Poems

Fear Factor

The woman knows she’s smashing
 in her orange bikini, bottoms flashing half
a red dragon tattoo. Her almost-fiancé
 (“We’re committed now!”) flashes confidence
from steel-blue eyes hard as his pecs.
 His blonde hair lights a class-president grin.

How long will he need, he’s asked, to dive
 into the icy pool, swim to the locked, fully
submerged cage where his love will be
 freezing, holding her breath, and set her
free? “Twenty seconds max. I’m
 confident.” She—waving from her cage—

swells with her own confidence, which shrinks
 as water shocks her toes, then turns to terror
as the shot ogles her down. Sir Commitment
 plunges (Spwak!), flounders down to her cage,
and pokes the first of his two keys. Trapped
 behind pink goggles, her eyes plead.

He jabs the second key. When that won’t work,
 his confidence shreds like Kleenex
in a blender. He’s betrayed—can’t breathe,
 heart clanging alarm. To hell with her!
He shoots straight up as she gives the rescue-
 divers a crazed, throat-slashing I quit.

Shivering on camera, the couple try
 No problem; it’s just TV, holding their smiles
the way burned men hold on
 their skin. Hand-in-hand, they churn
away. Then, not quite out of camera range,
 she turns.

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.