poem #33

Fox snakes, worm snakes, garter snakes, green snakes
brown snakes, milk snakes, kingsnakes, queen snakes,
black racers, blue racers, timber rattlers, rat snakes,
earth snakes, copperheads, copperbelly water snakes,
hog-nosed, red-bellied, ring-necked, ribbon snakes,
Kirtland’s, Massasauga, and smooth earth snakes
are the serpents of Ohio.
My son has caught at least one of each.
Every spring, he brings a specimen home,
puts it in a fish tank, feeds it a mouse, a goldfish,
or a big locust, and calls it his pet. You’d think
that’s the kind of childhood fun a boy should have.
But he’s nineteen and last year gave his fiancée
a baby rattler in a glass jar with a cheesecloth lid.
She screamed and dropped it. We’re lucky
it didn’t shatter, lucky the fabric didn’t rip.
It’s the babes of the bunch that don’t know
the punch they carry, that let loose
with every drop of venom from their glands.
This is what my son says. He’s a zoology major at Duke
and has been injecting trace amounts of fer-de-lance juice
every day for the past month to build up an immunity
so that he can handle the buggers quite literally
without worrying that he’ll die.
Already, he’s been bitten some twenty times
by everything from cotton mouths to cobras.
For the sake of my heart,
I wished he’d spare the details.
But for the sake of curiosity, I’m glad he tells me.
I’m the one who taught him to catch them in the first place,
to hold them just behind the head, to keep them from hurting themselves
or hurting him. I find their motions fascinating: Water moccasins swimming
or sidewinders shimmying across the sands of the Mojave desert.
In my dreams, I see hoop snakes, tails in their mouths,
wheeling across the plains. I could watch
a death adder slither
all the livelong day.
– Evelyn B. Hirschworth
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