AM I FOUR TODAY, DADDY?

By Charles Harper Webb


My son smiles when I assure him, "You're still five."

No need to break the news that, if you're not

a quark, time's school bus goes only one way.

 

Easy to explain how he grew inside Mommy,

how he got out, and even how I helped

put him in there. Simple to say that the young

 

couple kissing on our mantel are my parents

on their wedding day; but hard to answer,

"Let's go see 'em!" with "They're dead."

 

"Did they get shot?" he wants to know—

my all-American boy. "Did zombies eat them?"

"No," I say, "they just got old." So he—who prays

 

to be 1000, so he can boss me—demands,

"Why did they die?" "Old people wear out."

Above our house, a red-tail hawk circles and soars.

 

Dust sifts and sizzles through the air. LA's

"red wind" swoops down from Death Valley

to flap our blinds and snap leaves off the plum tree

 

I planted the year my son was born.

My wife and I've agreed to answer his questions

honestly, so I can't even throw down heaven's

 

mattress to cushion the fall when he asks,

"Will you die?" "Not for a long time . . ."

"Will I die?" "Well, doctors keep learning.

 

By the time you're old, who knows?"

"It'll be okay," I add when he's not fooled;

then, before he starts to cry, "No, you won't die!"

 

"Really?" "Really." "Hurray!" he yips,

"I'm Superman!" and skips away to save

the world.

 

Charles Harper Webb's latest book is Shadow Ball: New & Selected Poems, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. What Things Are Made Of, also from Pitt, is forthcoming in 2012. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach

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