He's had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don't make house
calls to the North Pole,

he's let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it's only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won't

stop squeezing. He can't
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph's
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I'm 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa's a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.

—Charles Harper Webb

Rights & Access

From Reading The Water, 2001
Northeastern University Press

Copyright 2001 by Charles Webb.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Northeastern University Press from Reading the Water. Copyright 1997 by Charles Harper Webb. For further permissions information, contact Northeastern University Press, 360 Huntington Avenue, 416 Columbus Place, Boston, MA 02115, phone 617-373-5480.

  • Charles Harper Webb

    Charles Harper Webb is the author of over a dozen poetry collections, including Brain Camp (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). He teaches at California State University, Long Beach.