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Rattlesnake

by Keith Ekiss


Even the rattle, like skin, is camouflage
—sound of mesquite pods shaking

from a violent breeze. Take the shortcut
home through the wash, its length

draws a line in the sand, thicker
than the thickest bullwhip. Better

to find one flat, belly to dust,
as in the Bible, then coiled like a maze.

The last thing a snake wants is to strike:
my skin doesn’t leave a hunting scent.

It’s best to freeze and step away slowly.
My mother had seen one sidewinding

through the kitchen. We hid in her room,
with the spade, until my father found it

in the shadows of the bed. He slit the body
lengthwise. I recoiled. Arms went itchy.

Everything crawled with cruelty.
An oily smell scrolled up from the skin.

He hung the slough to dry—
skeletal and waxy in garage light.

 

Keith Ekiss is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. His recent poems have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, North American Review, and Washington Square. He is the past recipient of a Witter Bynner Translators Residency from the Santa Fe Art Institute for his translations of Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio. (1/2006)


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