Tuesday, August 08, 2006


(title needs work)

I had it stashed in my brain:
how my landlord, Sandra, kept
the face and neck of a snake
in a squat jar filled with vinegar.
This was her spectacle about death--
how to deal with dying, or how to die.

I turned seven before spotting
the jar in our shed--before the jar spotted me.
Sandra hadn't intended so much for humor,
as she had to set a spectacle.
And that was the thing
about death and its aftermath.

I couldn't have been
more surprised to learn that
such snakes tend only to help
gardens grow by masticating
certain pests--shaded black and brown,
which are the colors of melancholy.

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
how does your garden grow?" Then,
words fell flat off my mouth: I dreamt
of an old pal and her brothers--
the three of them--stepping off a cliff,
as if in obedience to an unspoken mantra.

This all happened before
our move to that house with the shed.
What did the rest of the verse do but fail me?
The hoe had twice fallen straight on its neck
and seemed to have splattered it
into three pieces, now caught in a jar.

It couldn't even scream or make babies,
this all happened so fast.
Hadn't its blood been yellow, like dragons'
in Renaissance fairytales? Or, I had made this up too?
Unlike that myth about the poisons excreted
by our bad humors into our blood. Choleric-yellow, for example.

When another one slid around the bend,
I shrieked sanguinely and my mother finished it off--
"With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row."
Somehow, that made even less sense than the rest.
As did the kinds of solid questions
I took too shy of a blush to utter.

Not even scrapping questions
like, What's the origin of this plot?
Who took grandpa's hand on the way to the cemetary?
Why won't Ms. Sandra-landlord
show herself when I'm around?
Where'd its blood go, and why not red?

The kinds of suckers people call leeches
didn't begin to help
with removing that bad bile
they used to believe our blood was made of.
Nor was it that the screening for life
and the carbon dating system had let me down.

In my quest for the exact
age and reason for the canyons,
I simply decided to suffer the literary approach--
which is to say I've taken a certain
so-called mythology very seriously,
and have given up on blanket answers.