by Paul J. Sampson

I. Here’s Looking at You

Live sine wave that charts the jolt of volts along my startled nerves,
I’ve watched you scribble yourself in cursive script:
lowercase E and L, cap O and S (of course), then ampersand.
You write an old long story, and it scares me.

A sudden sight of you, and my heart pounds like hatchet blows,
the muscular squirm of my own gut mirrors your moves.

Your famous tongue: a bright arterial spurt squirts red, then vanishes
inside your hard grim grin. Again. One quick ripple and it’s gone.

Your old skin inside out, discarded like a dirty sock.
Your new skin, pebbled like a beaded purse.

No one holds so still.
No one moves so fast.

II. We Go Way Back, You and I

I know precisely why you scare me, but it doesn’t help.
My mother’s farmer father nearly lost an arm to snakebite
--“He was just weeding the garden,” she told us, wailing--
and she and all the family watched the brutal country doctor
who made a bad thing worse. I heard this story
the first time, and every time, we saw a snake.
Never mind that her father’s snake had rattles and ours
were the kind kids keep as pets. To her, no difference.
She was the Red Queen: Off with their heads!

I was an obedient boy, an error I regret and don’t repeat.
So, at her command, out I marched with garden hoe
to whack your grandpa’s head off (or great-great grandpa’s--
this was fifty years and more ago). There he lay,
dozing in the sunny driveway, next to the peonies,
draped in a lazy curvy shape. I raised the hoe.

Do I have to tell the rest, how he torqued
and corkscrewed into loops and treble clefs of pain,
and kept on doing it, while I and his severed head looked on,
neither of us able to look away?

III. Where Do We Go From Here?

I swear, that day to this, I’ve never harmed another of your tribe
and never will. No snakeskin boots for me, I promise.

Not that I’m never tempted. I won’t forget your raids
on the swallow’s nests above our door, you ingrate,
after I’d caught you in the house and let you go
in the lovely, brushy creekbed down by the dump
with lots of yummy rats for you to eat. Please, just leave
and stay away. It’s bad enough that you’re the star
of every other TV nature show we see. No offense,
but sometimes I have to leave the room and let you eat.

I can recite your virtues, if I have to. You were and are
worshipped here and there, like other terrors;
you are supremely graceful, agile beyond all but birds;
your skin is patterned like a priceless carpet.
You make your living with scarcely any tools.

All true, and I admit it. But, old nightmare,
I admire you without liking you at all.

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