Today's poem is by David Wagoner
By the railroad tracks, on cinders,
at the feet of brown cattails,
I found a snake stretched out in curves on its back.
Its belly was the color of clear water,
a green I could see through
to a place on fire.
The cross-hatched bruises near the tail
and the broken head meant a boy something like me
had killed it. That was how
everyone I knew
told snakes to go away. I don't know why
I ran home then, found an empty jar, and ran
all the way back to it,
but for the first time in eight years,
I held a snake in the air with my own fingers.
It was almost as tall as I was and beautiful.
It swayed with me, then coiled
tail-first down into that mouth
and around the inside of the glass as evenly
and easily as if it was meant to be there
all along. I wanted to keep it
from more harm and from grown-up men
who killed them too. I wanted it to be mine
and still alive. I carried it home slowly
to a shelf on our back porch
where no one could quite see it
unless they looked on purpose. It sat there
coiled tight around itself and melting
for three whole days. For three nights
it coiled and melted in my dreams and half sleep.
I walked to school and came back. I ate my food.
I felt afraid. I couldn't look at it again.
I slept. I dreamed.
I shivered out of bed
barefoot, carried the jar along our alley
in the night through patches of sandburs,
and poured the limp, uncoiling body
and all its rusty matter
into the rustier water of the swamp.
Maybe I really did. It was gone in the morning.
Or maybe my mother did it or my father.
None of us ever said a word about it.
Copyright © 2007 David Wagoner All rights reserved
from The Seattle Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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