Poem of the Week | June 06, 2016

This week we feature a new poem by Charles Harper Webb. Webb’s latest book, Brain Camp, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2015. A Million MFAs Are Not Enough, a book of essays on contemporary American poetry, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2016. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.

Author’s note:

Every year for the past decade, red-tailed hawks have nested in a pine two houses down from ours: the tallest tree in our neighborhood. “On the Head” uses the visual mystery of a hawk’s flight as an entry point to considering more human mysteries.


On the Head


“It’s glued to the sky!” Joshie cries as the hawk
hangs like a spider in a web of blue. “It’s just
a bird,” states his friend Bree—12 to his 9.


Ennui invades her blood like the hormones that soon
will start her big remodeling. She yawns
as I tell how the hawk, flying at wind-


speed into the breeze, seems to hover as it waits
to snatch rats, lizards, lesser birds. “Cool,”
says Joshie. “Let’s play ball!” says Bree.


She forgives Joshie’s age, since he can hit,
and he lets her mousse his hair. Otherwise,
she’d drop him for a boy nearer a goatee.


This seems as natural as the hawk’s Scree!
Yet the two “hang out” for hours.
Is Soon-to-be-Lady Bree inducting my son


into mysteries more compelling than any bird?
Does my hawk symbolize Death dropping
from the sky, or a middle-aged dad fighting


forward, constantly blown back? (Some call
such directness crude: too on the head.
That’s why some poems circle endlessly.)


The hawk, flying into wind, feels that it’s moving.
Kids, flying into Time, feel they are not
till friends change schools, hair sprouts


where no hair was, organs that seemed funny
seize new identities, and thoughts we fear to name
knock us, hard, right on the head.