Charles Harper Webb
-for Francis Macomber and “Papa”
The roars that wracked my sleep have ceased.
The gray-blue dawn hangs, paralyzed. Already
Smiling Ralph, my guide, has scouted up
a trophy neighborhood with few carjackings,
and teachers who can spell chthonic and cicerone.
“Look!” he hisses. There they are: condos
and townhouses; ranch-styles; gated communities
with identical roofs of red-brown tile;
fixer-uppers; “classics” with hardwood floors —
“immaculate,” “move-in condition.”
We move in cautiously. Our quarry graze
in their own yards — grass or ice-plant, concrete
or colored stone. Ralph herds me toward
the priciest. “Cheap is deadly,” he reminds.
“I like the big ones!” my wife cries. I whirl
on her. “How nice for you! Why aren’t you home?”
“I want to come.” “Wonderful! Tell everyone . . . ”
“They have our scent,” Ralph snaps. “Let’s go.”
And so we charge into a blur of tile and lacquered
parquet. It’s gas versus electric, Italian marble
versus yellow-flowered linoleum. Plush
white carpet soaks my sweat up like a sponge.
High ceilings snarl as skylights glare. And then
I’m running — hurling down my checkbook,
leaving my wife with brochures flapping in her hands.
And though she bellows, “Bloody coward!”
and I hear Ralph howling offers, and for all
I know, bagging one of the damned things for me,
I don’t stop until the city’s far behind,
and night’s warm wickiup bends to shelter me.
If we’d never heard of gravity, would we say,
The apple falls when Earth calls her child home?
Would we see stones as wingless birds
that fly downhill, and can be coaxed to kill?
The sun as God’s eye; yolk of the sky-bird’s egg;
gold vagina giving birth to day — all seem more
likely than a ball of hydrogen fusing, at fifteen
million degrees, ninety-three million miles away.
One war, one plague, and we may kneel to those
who swear that rivers freeze when water-sprites
hug tight for warmth; that ice-warriors kill plants
each fall, but prayer routs the Armies of Cold.
Some prophets will, of course, decree, “God
wants our blood!” Still, when Science sinks back
into the unknown, we may be happy to believe
the dead shed bodies the way snakes shed skins,
and flowers are their way to say, “We wait here,
full of love, for you”; that fire is sunlight trapped
in trees, and raindrops are plant-spirits rushing
to be born. It will be clear that the soul lives
in its skull as the turtle in its shell, peering
out with bright orange eyes at cloud-cloaked
mountains where gods gather by campfires
to tell the stories that become our lives.