- Fat Gray Squirrels, and: House Centipede
fat gray squirrels
flee from me like furry sine waves— bushy inchworms—eyebrows skating over speedbumps on the forest floor. They leap
onto the backs of trees, and—brown bark flying—ride them up to green- haired limbs where they curse mewith sounds like monkeys gibbering,
macaws screeching, cats hair-balling. Whump! Whump! Whump! their emphysemic coughing prays. And when I tire of them, and leave—
Choonk, choonk, choonk, choonk! Hohnh, hohnh, hohnh, hohnh!— they thank their Squirrel God for driving meaway. [End Page 129]
My first one looked, as gray dawn crawled across my eyes, like a choruslineof spiders on the ceiling, set to fall and fang me in my bed. No wonderI submerged the monster in a Black Flag slough.
Anything so multi-legged and bristly had to have a horror-name: Death's HeadHell-Dangler, say, or Septic Shadow-Creeper. Who'd have guessed house centipede,as if each house comes, cozy, with its own?
Alien as the gulper eel (all mouth and dangling tapeworm gut), housecentipedes could have crash-landed on Earth, speaking in isotopes of oxygen.What relief, H.C., to crack open
California Bugs, and find you are a shy recluse, harmless to humans,though deadly to spiders: your favored prey. Small savior who, traversing the TVlike a one-bug parade, made my son
annunciate, "Daddy! Him!"—death to the black widow and brown recluse.Long live your rowing legs, your speed when startled, whirring quick as a breezeacross the carpet when, up for a midnight sip,
I flick the light. (Don't crawl too close to my bed, please.) May your huntingprosper, frilled protector. May you fatten on my enemies. May we share this house in peace. [End Page 130]
Charles Harper Webb is the author of, most recently, Sidebend World (2018), A Million MFAs Are Not Enough (2016), and What Things Are Made Of (2013). He is the recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, and teaches creative writing at California State University, Long Beach.