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.