I picked up a copy of Charles Harper Webb’s standout green-covered chapbook, “Dr. Invisible and Mr. Hide,” at the CSU Long Beach campus bookstore in 2002. I was taking a winter quarter Geology class there to catch up on some credits during the holiday break from my University, It would be 15 years until I found out, while researching this poem, that Webb runs the MFA program at CSULB. In those days I had the habit of browsing bookstores (believe it or not, there still were plenty of bookstores in 2002!) and taking home one thing that caught my fancy on that particular day. I don’t know if I liked the title, the cute way the chapbook was stapled together, sitting among a pile of bound, serious-looking, hardcover books– or maybe I flipped through it, read a few lines and was charmed. I took the chapbook home.
In a casual but curious manner, I read the tiny book so many times I practically memorized every poem in it. I tried picking a favorite, but they were all my favorite! In the end, the one that stayed with me was Love Poetry. Phrases or images from it would float through my mind at random times for years after I lost the book. In 2017, 15 years after my winter at CSULB, I thought of Love Poetry while I was writing a story with a theme that echoed the poem’s. I didn’t remember the name of the poem or the who the author was, only that he or she taught at Long Beach in 2002.
Because I decided I wanted to include Love Poetry as an epilogue to my short story, I actually mass e-mailed the entire faculty at CSULB late one night telling them about my predicament and paraphrasing the last two lines of the poem, the only part I knew by heart:
“That girl was you,
That boy was me.”
Three different professors actually responded to tell me the name of the poem and its poet. I emailed Dr. Webb to tell him about my story and ask his permission to include Love Poetry at the end, and he was very kind and all for it.
Now, the poem is seared into my brain for good; I have a copy of it saved on my computer; and, I will forever be grateful to Charles Harper Webb for writing something which touched me so genuinely.
Today, I want to share this wonderful and unique poem with you. I think you will like it.
By Charles Harper Webb
Most people think it’s what all poetry is—
that, or incomprehensible, which love is too.
But wonderful. Enough to make you swim
the Hellespont – or try. Enough to make
you drink poison, or shoot yourself to warn
your lover of a trap. Forget the cynics
who call you “codependent.” What do they know
about love? Its better than being President.
Better than discovering a cure for Death,
your face on stamps from every country
in the world. Better than eating anything
you want and not gaining an ounce—
getting more physically fit with every Devilish
Mocha Cheesecake Delight. Look at pop songs,
movies, and books—so many people burning
calories in loves praise. Don’t tell me
they “protest too much.” All cynics are casualties
of love. They start hopeful as anyone
but instead of Strawberry crepes on Sunday morning,
they get a spider sandwich. Instead of hot oil
massages, they get drubbed with baseball bats.
Instead of all-expense paid lives in Bora Bora,
They get the Gulag Archipelago.
See that couple ditching school? See how
she grips his arm at the elbow? See how they stop
on the sidewalk in front of the whole passing
adult world, and kiss? French kiss! See how
he kneads her ass?—not only without shame
with pride. Look at how proud they are of each other
as they resume walking, love tinting the air
around them like a big red heart. That isn’t pap;
that’s poetry. Even if she gets pregnant that day,
and wrecks her life. Even if her father makes her
get an abortion and dump the guy. Even if
he finds a new girlfriend and flaunts her,
while his dream to be a rock star shrinks to a vow
to fish a lot, then dwindles to dust under his bed.
Even if she marries a cop who beats her,
And punches three kids into her before she’s 20.
Even if the boy—now more or less a man—
sees her one day shopping at Ralphs, and doesn’t
know her, she looks so sad and old. Even if
that girl was you, that boy was me. Even so.
What did you think? Let me know in the comments! I’d really love to hear your opinion.