Writing The Snake
If you've seen how they loop their unspeakable bodies,
one on the other, in spring,
if you've seen how they take
their tails in their mouths to make themselves hoops,
if you've seen how they manage to balance
while flinging the wheels of their bodies careening downhill,
if you've seen how they shed, how duplicate skins
pull like socks off their bodies,
if you've seen how the ropes of these socks
rattle on branches and tumble down paths toward the casual
then you know what I mean and you know there's a door
left slightly ajar in my mind.
There's a man I know who rustles up snakes on the Sabbath,
poisonous snakes whose powerful bodies I'd kill
Every week, with his sack full of venom,
he comes to my white picket fence where a coil of rope
hangs on the gatepost.
He is bearded and burly. He trundles the sack. He reaches inside
and pulls out a snake by its head
as it wraps up his
He measures the string and ties
the snake to a slat on the fence where it churns
like an eggbeater's handle.
He watches it settle and measures the string
for a different slat. A third and fourth
and a fifth and sixth until seven are hanging and churning
in front of my house. They are nasty and mean
and he likes them that way. As for me,
as he preaches by rote his storm of St. Paul to the serpents,
I never do more than look out the window;
I stare at the blank sheet of paper
to get myself
At the end of the day, when the snakes
are sluggish and dry from the heat and his voice
is a dry-gourd rattle, he snips at the rope with a scissors.
They fall to the ground, feeling the legs they lost and their bodies
too tired to move.
If one has the strength,
he'll let it escape, but the others he scoops
like a pile of noodles and carries them down through town
to a woman who pays for their bodies
then takes them out back where she crushes
their heads with a hatchet.
She slices their scales
and peels their banana-skin back.
Walk by her house and you'll see,
hung on her clothesline like stockings, their untanned hides.
She eats the meat and grinds the bones into powders while I
write myself poems I bag for the mail
and send on
Nothing is worse than a plague
of ambivalent snakes.
Imagine the desert or steppe. They swarm from their holes
then lay in the sun getting burned.
They make their ways through cracks
in the limestone and into the house where they sleep
on the hearth or coil on pillows.
You find them asleep in the flour, but no one
is poisoned and only the feeble are scared.
aren't into poison or sin.
They don't bare their fangs, and their cottony mouths stay shut.
As you walk the bazaar, they are hanging from awnings like canes,
but life is proceding as usual,
boring and staid.
Expressions don't change, people aren't bitten,
and no one needs Moses to gallop to town on his camel,
to raise his serpentine cross for a healing;
in a plague of ambivalent snakes,