I wrote a priceless poem, a poem so precious 

Burglars broke into my house three times 

A day looking for it, and bankers begged 

Me to deposit it with them, and women 

Clamored for it instead of a ring, 

And mafiosi clung like ants to the armored

Car I hired, and my bodyguards 

Mugged and strip-searched, but didn't torture me 

For fear I'd change one syllable.


I wrote an incriminating poem, a poem 

So damning of so many that death threats 

Arrived each hour; that police and FBI 

Searched my house and car and safe- 

Deposit box, with warrants and without, 

Whether or not I was there, and attorneys 

Begged to defend me just for the publicity, 

And everyone I've ever known offered me

Big bucks to cut where they appeared.


I wrote an atomic poem, a poem 

So devastating that the government 

Begged to store it in a silo for me; 

That one reading cured cancer, though

Memorizing it caused leukemia; 

That it saw through women's clothes; that traders 

In contraband offered missiles armed 

With warheads in exchange; that no one 

Who remembered even one line could stop shaking.  


I wrote a Top Secret poem, a poem 

So classified that not even the CIA 

Knew of it (they'd heard rumors)— 

A poem the President lacked clearance to see.

Every woman I slept with was a spy. 

I couldn't eat a bowl of Raisin Bran without

Chipping molars on some flake-size bug. 

The world's future lay in my hands, 

And people listened when I said, Don't startle me.  


I wrote a narcotic poem, a poem 

So addictive that a single word, 

Cut with a hundred neutral letters, sold 

For thousands on the street; that junkies died 

Of overdoses every day—died smiling, 

Died fulfilled; that cocaine, heroin, speed, 

Reefer, LSD lost all value; 

That no one who heard so much as a prose 

Summary could ever get enough.


I wrote a prophetic poem, a poem 

So accurate that reporters used it

As a source; that racetracks, lotto, 

And all Nevada shut down; that elections

Were abolished—people just asked me

Who won.  Religions sprang up around me. 

People booked marriages, divorces, 

Funerals years in advance; and no one 

Lost a dime if they listened to me.


I wrote an extraterrestrial poem, a poem 

So advanced and powerful that lovers paused 

Mid-kiss to hear; that lifelong enemies 

Dropped their weapons and embraced; that no one 

Passed within a mile of the text without 

Choking up; that people stopped burning 

Coal and gas and oil and wood, and gathered 

Near the poem, and rubbed their numb hands, 

And opened first their jackets, then their hearts.  

from Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies, published by Boa Editions, Ltd., © 2001 by Charles Harper Webb.