Charles Harper Webb

Home | The Last Issue | Submissions | Achieve: 2004-2009 | Essays

is professor of English at California State University, Long Beach, as well as a psychotherapist in private practice. He has published a novel, The Wilderness Effect, and six collections of poems, including Liver, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry.


The Death of Santa Claus

He's had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don't make house
calls to the North Pole,

he's let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it's only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won't

stop squeezing. He can't
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph's
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I'm 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa's a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.


-from Reading The Water, 2001 Northeastern University Press

Satan drugged God's favorite pair of animals, and planted in their brains a shimmering seed.
     At first, the seed glowed like the moon on cloudy nights. Then it flashed like the sky-fire that, even in hard rain, could make trees burn. Then it blazed like a second sun, coaxing the dark world out of hiding.
     It made leaves greener, ponds wetter, dirt grittier, flowers and fruits so fragrant they seemed to yank noses toward them.
     "Who are you?" the two asked God the next time He walked in their garden.
     "Stop staring," God said, and caused a wind to carry them into the desert while He wove fig-leaves to hide his nakedness.
     "You can come back," He called when He had finished. But they didn't come.
     He found that He could see everything in the world except these two. He could know anything except their minds.
     All night he called, "Come back to Eden." When, next morning, the famished pair left the cave where they'd been hiding, God saw, and carried them home.
     But they didn't graze blissfully, or roll in thick grass as they'd done before.
     "Your gut's too big," Eve told Adam.
     God saw his own paunch, and winced
     "Don't climb that tree---you'll break your leg!" Adam told Eve, and God felt the fragility of His limbs.
     "sometimes I think you're adorable; other times, I want to slap you," Eve told Adam, and God realized he felt the same way about Satan.
     "Things seem good now," Adam told Eve one night after they made love. "But I can see us getting bored. I see you with flat, droopy breasts and a big rear. I see myself with gray hair spraying out my nose, and pain in both legs when I walk."
     God scrambled back to heaven; but when He tried to sleep, He felt plaque choking off his arteries. He felt free radicals whiz through Him, shattering cells like water jars.
     When Adams legs hurt too much to move, and Eve's heart fluttered, leaving her too weak to stand, God took no pleasure in their offspring, who carpeted the land. He felt frail as his favorites, realizing "I can't help them." Realizing---even worse---"They can't help Me."
-First published in Santa Monica Review

Something Not Stupid
I've been having small thoughts lately: bread crumbs instead of last years's layer cakes.
     I used to think about love, war, injustice, sunsets, the existence of God---things people care about. it sounds stupid to mention what I thought about, though my thoughts were much praised.
     Now my best thoughts are "a pair of slippers"; "freckles"; "place touched by a unicycle."
     First I wanted to make sence. Then I wanted not to make sence. Now I want only to say something not stupid.
     My dirty socks smell like hyacinths which smell like dirty socks.
-First published in the Paris Review