Issue > Poetry
Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb

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 M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.

Nice Hat

In knee guards, wrist guards, elbow guards, and helmet,
      my son could be some pre-teen Greek
          ready to grab lance and shield, and show
         those pre-teen Trojans who's who and what's where.  
On his board, though, he's all lurches and jerks.

He stands too straight, leans the wrong way, and won't
      bend his knees, despite my sideline disquisitions
          on natural shock absorbers and center of gravity.  
         Too often he jumps off his board,
or loses momentum and slides feebly back into the pit.  

He's only skateboarded three months. Still, I'd be blind
         not to see that several boys and one girl skate
          with more grace, zest, and verve—skate
         as naturally as fish swim—whereas he's a gutsy
water-phobe in water-wings. He thinks too much

to dissolve into pure speed. The jabs of "I might
      fall," "I'll look bad," "It'll hurt," punch
          through his guard, bloodying his nose,
      ringing his chimes. Worse—his problems are mine:
the "nerves" that gripped my diaphragm like guy wires

when my voice needed to soar; the fear of choking
      that shoved me off the mound in spite of my "great
          arm." (Two coaches used those words!)  
         I own a tape of my dad conquering Christmas Bach
("He could have sung opera," the church-ladies said)

until one passage where, like a pole-vaulter at lift-
         off, he hesitates. "Uh, oh," I hear him think,
          and lose, for one instant, the melodic thread.  
         It's as if parents keep throwing out the same hideous hat
their kids keep dragging from the trash . . .

My son flails past—waving, or trying not to crash?—
         followed by the Mohawked thug who, last week,
          yelled at him, "Dickweed! You made me fall!"
         "He blames you for his lack of skill,"
I pronounced, playing Wise Dad. So now the thug

is shredding—leaps, flips, slides, grinds, ollies: master
          of these curved, skin-lacerating concrete sides.  
          When he blasts by again, he yells something—
         at me?—that sounds, in the Doppler-wind of his passing,
like "Nice hat!"

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