Poems by Charles McCabe

We're pleased to offer these thought-provoking poems by Charles McCabe: Spider Season, Hawaiian Shirt, and Billions.


Our grandson Theo arrived three weeks before
the eight billionth human was born.
In other words,
to say he is one in a million
would be wildly underestimating him.
I recall learning in high school
three billion humans lived on earth
grimly realizing we were near our planet’s capacity
to continue life as we knew it.

With that environmental seed planted decades ago
eight billion sounds ominous,
nearly catastrophic
yet also hopeful
a sign of progress
thanks to improved healthcare and nutrition
lower infant and maternal mortality
and more education for women:
a human side to all those daunting,
impersonal zeroes.

Even so,
how do we grasp a number like 8,000,000,000?
The boreal forest in Canada is home to 600 billion trees.
Most of us never see this forest
or the trees.
Our Milky Way galaxy has 100 billion stars
or 400 billion.
It’s hard to tell.
Globally, we produced 36 billion metric tons
of carbon dioxide in 2019.
Burning one gallon of gasoline produces twenty pounds
of this greenhouse gas.
Elon was worth 203 billion dollars last month
and Jeff only 126 billion,
with poor Mark a paltry 36 billion.
Closer to home,
eighty percent of our planet’s citizens
live on ten dollars or less per day.
This isn’t helping.
How can we compare trees, stars, pounds, or dollars
to human lives?

How about this:
I am one of 3.6 million sixty-nine-year-old Americans,
one of 51 million earthlings the same age.
Our granddaughter Pippa is one of 3.7 million
two-year-olds in the U.S,
while India is home to 22.5 million
in her toddler playgroup
that includes 131 million worldwide.
This is the forest of humanity we live in,

Our world is shifting
in ways we see yet don’t comprehend
like all the zeroes
facing us every day.
If Theo and Pippa are the miracles I believe them to be
so are all the other millions
moving into the future with them.
These miracles will test our capacity,
challenge our assumptions,
and may find a path
through the forest of zeroes,
just as we navigated from three to eight billion
in the blink of my lifetime.

Charles McCabe    11.19.22    © 2022


Spider Season

Spider season is a wonder to behold
and a warning to be watchful.
Webs are everywhere I go
spanning walkways,
clinging to car doors,
sticking to my face after running through a spider gauntlet.

I’m picking blackberries as sweet
as nectar is to a hummingbird
watching for thorns that grab and stab
while spiders as large as the berries
lurk near the juiciest fruit
waiting for the trigger
of their vibrating web.
Are these luscious berries worth the risks
of thorns and bites,
of blood and primal crawly creatures?

Now consider the citizen soldier in Ukraine,
the homeless family seeking shelter,
the refugee walking to an uncertain border
hundreds of perilous miles away,
risking everything
while I’m contemplating fruit and spiders.

Are we in the same world?
How can we compare the risks of backyard shrubbery
with life and death?
Because we share the same perfectly complex web
each guarding our own strands
believing we are solitary spiders
until we feel the trigger threads
shudder so violently
we spring into action.

Charles McCabe    10.12.22    © 2022


Hawaiian Shirt

Nothing like a new used 100% rayon Hawaiian shirt
fresh off the Goodwill rack
fabric as light as the pattern is loud
cool against the skin
better than air
hanging loose
starting a second life
that will last decades.

Where did this five-buck shirt begin its life?
Hanging on a rack in Palm Springs?
At an outlet mall in Centralia?
A sleepy JCPenney in Spokane?

Who wore this boombox of a shirt the first time?
A father or newlywed bound for Hawaii?
A retiree ready for backyard barbecues?
A spouse honoring his partner’s wish to Go for It?

Why did they cast it off in its prime?
A simple one-and-done function?
A frayed collar or popped button?
A closet emptied when a life ended?

Even with the weight of these stories
this gossamer shirt defies gravity
lifting my spirit and raising eyebrows
everywhere it goes
a slinky celebration of second chances.

Charles McCabe    4.26.22    © 2022

About the Poet: Charles McCabe is a retired public school teacher and principal. He has lived in Washington state for 45 years.