One of my very earliest memories
Is of the king snake.
It had gotten into our house, somehow—through
The air conditioning vents, the boys told us—
And it was relaxing in the dark coolness.
I was young, three or four,
I was walking from the hallway into a bedroom,
And I saw a colorful scarf lying in the doorway,
Catching the sunlight from outside.
I reached down to touch it
And it slithered through my toddler hands
To escape behind the door.
The king snake is a good snake,
The boys said later…
The boys that my mother called to catch the snake.
It is a hunter of bad snakes and rodents—
Eating poisonous things,
Rooting out scavengers.
I have vague memories of the king snake…
It was beautiful,
Lounging in the doorway
And then, two days later,
Stretched in a front window,
A living letter S between the glass and the blinds…
Arcing up into the sunlight,
Ancient and determined.
I touched the snake,
And I am afraid of it, still,
That strange, cold muscle,
That single-minded undulation.
But, every once in a while,
I recall the primitive beauty of the snake,
Its delicious, seductive foreignness,
And the way the boys spoke so breathlessly,
Of its quest
Into the abyss.