"The Sound That Wakes Me at Night, Thinking of It"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Feb. 17 2009 2:06 PM

"The Sound That Wakes Me at Night, Thinking of It"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Charles Harper Webb read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes..

Not his wife—sobbing, refusing to get out of bed.
Not his kids, kept home from school, snuffling
or wailing, "I want Daddy," when they're not
poking each other or whining, "He hit me!"
Not little brother, jarred awake at 2 a.m., phlegm-
throating, "Fuckers," thinking it took more than one,
fury his finger-in-the-dike stopping a flood. 

Not his mother, rocking, wrapped in her own
arms, her face in the bathroom mirror so twisted
and old it stops her cold, the way she might
have stopped him, if she hadn't popped pills
to sleep and wake and feel better about her life
that always was, she sees now, fabulously good.
No, it's his father, in court, his speech prepared:

the "impact statement" meant to heap years
of hot-coal suffering on the bastard's head,
since judge and jury—those pukes, those bleeding,
heartless ulcers—lacked the stones to squash
a stinkbug. It's Dad, hearing the killer parrot,
"a drug deal gone bad"—that junkie, that syphilitic
gob of tapeworm pus casually adding, as part

of the deal that saved his life, "I popped the kid."
It's Dad, flying over chairs and tables, past
bailiffs and lawyers to reach, somehow,
the killer's throat, his own releasing a sound
between a train grinding to a panic-stop,
and a jet fighter screeching off to bomb Iraq—
sound of a gut-stuck sabertooth before it mauled

Neanderthal—berserker-sound trapped
in suburbia, the one act that could comfort him
choked off by Law, but not the sound
that, even when he's dragged away on national
TV—thrashing, head thrown back, mouth gaped
wide as a bear's—I know he won't stop making,
hour after hour, year after year.


Charles Harper Webb's latest book is Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems. A new book, What Things Are Made Of, is forthcoming in 2013. He teaches in the creative writing program at California State University, Long Beach.


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