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Prairie Schooner 80.3 (2006) 48-51

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World's Greatest Hypnotist, and: Lost, and: Life of Keats

World's Greatest Hypnotist

"Keep your feet covered," Mom said.
"You'll catch your death." So even knowing
viruses slink in through the eyes, mouth, and nose,
I sleep under at least a sheet, and never nude.

"If my feet get cold, I start to sneeze,"
I've told women to justify this lapse in sexual
abandon. "Hypnosis works on a weak will,"
Mom told me, too; so I was thrilled

when The Great Zoltan couldn't budge me
in the Wiki Wiki Room the night Julie
Elvised "All Shook Up," quacked like a duck,
and did a strip Zoltan's assistant had to stop.

Of course, Julie'd strip at the drop of "I love you."
She slept naked, and loathed my blue PJs.
When I pled suggestibility, she said, "Zoltan
couldn't touch you either," and stayed hurt.

Psychologists know suggestion works best
if you trust the suggester. So I throw
salt over my shoulder like Mom, and squirrel
cash in case Wall Street crashes again.

So when I call a friend, and she can't talk –
"I'm off to Dallas. Mom's real sick again" –
I know the fear she's in – unmarried, childless,
but with one person she can always trust, [End Page 48]

one who insists she wear warm clothes
when she goes out, and look both ways.
If that one goes, who'll care if she talks
to strangers, or eats her broccoli? In despair,

she may pull on mismatched socks, stare
at amputees, and lie naked in a draft
the way I did when my mom died –
half defiant, half hoping I'd catch my death.


My husband hands me the crystal swan
his mother carried, wrapped in tissue,
from Slovakia to Skagit, Washington.
The swan glows gold: a little sun.

I'm overdue somewhere, I know,
and so I start to run – alone
at night, the swan lighting my way.
I hold it tightly. Carefully.

My hands are strong. But the light
burns so hot it melts my finger-
bones. The swan slips through,
and smashes on the stony street.

The light goes out. My husband
thrashes at my side. I wake, blood
on our flannel sheets. My genes
will die with me. [End Page 49]

Life of Keats

While average people whittle days away
in well-bred lines, or sweat blood
into their suits, or pound keyboards
in office chaingangs, the Poet floats

with Psyche, they believe, in a haze
of summer indolence, or admiring some urn
or autumn leaf, drifts through verdurous
glooms and winding mossy ways.

While regular Joes and Josephines simmer
in traffic, or tune out the landlord's rant
about their cat, the Poet lifts to his epicene
nose a musk rose, full of dewy wine.

Prosaic folk quail at the thought
of terrorists, viruses (computer or not),
and health care costs incurred by worrying
themselves sick about the kids – will

spanking, for instance, pound into their son
the discipline he needs, or whack him
toward mass murder and crack? –
while the Poet lolls on his lucky backside,

and sniffs soft incense that hangs
upon the bough, and reads Homer
while nightingales indulge in plaintive peeling,
and gathering swallows twitter in the sky.

Who can believe that poetry is the shade
of a lone creosote bush in a desert [End Page 50]
where the parched poet gasps for air –
that poetry is a broom closet where the poet,

among spiders, mouse-droppings, and dust,
steals five minutes when the spouse stops
bellyaching, when the boss's fat back turns –
that poetry is a bong hit, a swig of gin

snuck on the job, a ripped space-time
the poet slips inside too briefly
before he coughs, and paints in red
a nightingale-egg pattern on his faltering hand.

Charles Harper Webb's most recent book is Hot Popsicles (University of Wisconsin Poetry Series).



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