The Snakebite Cure
Maybe I’ll forgive her out of tiredness.
I’ll give out and she’ll pick me off
the ground. Oh, happiness.
Put me inside the trunk of a tree, her
treasure. Forget I’m there. Forget I forgave.
I’ll forget. My forgiveness will turn to rage.
Down from a tree the snake came, walked
on water, rested in the grass, hung from
the rafters and curled on the stone floors of
our house. The coyotes set to praying
their sharp staccato warning, and the goats
panicked against barn walls and the dogs stood
stiff and panting at the door. I slipped out,
clad in garlic skin, put one foot
in the forest and it made no sound.
Each summer the white tents returned to save us,
to revive us, to remind us
we’d been saved. But I believed the world was
a woman who made the rain fall,
a woman who went to bed angry and
could not wake. Same as the people
who descended from trees, fell into the water
with a splash, could not go back, so they made
a sign language, an alphabet of leaves
to hold their secrets. And from those trees of letters,
she fashioned knives from words. Now the words
return on a spider’s silk to the daughter’s dangerous
pillow: I can’t tell if I am being reborn or sacrificed.
She cries in her sleep sometimes, and when
the ground is dry, people look up. Learning to float
she told me, Let go. The water will hold you.
Get close enough to death and you never have to
be afraid to die again. But I kicked
hard – first breath and I failed her test.
When the preacher spoke of miracles, I did not
hear. Never saw him reach into
the wooden box and lift away
the copperhead snake who took the scent of
things on her red tongue: human sweat, cedar
trees, alfalfa drying in the fields. Some
preachers were bit and still survived. Anything
can be a miracle if you
know how to read the signs.
When I found her in the woods, hovering in moonlight
above me, floating below the green-black
canopy, she glowed, suspended
in a milk cocoon made of the
filmy nest around a spider’s eggs, and I
knew I had to slide the arrow from my
back and shoot her down.
But still she did not wake.
It had been me, after all
I was the one who
had to keep going.
Dorothy Neagle is a Kentuckian who lives and writes in New York. She has studied writing most recently at the Unterberg Poetry Center, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including The Portland Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Glass Mountain, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Memoirist, The Nasiona, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.