I had welcomed the snake.
Here is Eden
above the fall line, beginning of the slow rise
of piedmont. Above the fish ladder
built to let the shad go home again,
above the sunbathers’ rocks and the capsized canoes.
No sirens, no brown river sand, no thrashing currents.
The earth is dense and red, loblollies beginning
to yield to white oak and hickory,
the understory throbbing—
tree frogs and neon-striped skinks,
crickets and katydids.
I can believe, for a season,
everything thrives—rabbit and wood thrush,
groundhog, the great crested pterodactyl woodpeckers
and the little, persistent downy woodpeckers.
I can believe the snake slithering through the louvers
into our crawl space is benign,
the mice away and swallowing
only a few. I can believe
its cousin the copperhead prefers the woods
where we don’t go, and our dog will avoid
both of them. The deer herd—sure, why not?—
would rather eat horse nettles and catbrier
and leave our hydrangeas to blossom
Everything is promise, nothing
has died. Nothing is going to die.
And the tanager nest in the viburnum
that brushes the living-room windows is set there
for our delight and instruction.
So at first I can’t believe the black head
rising from the bed of twigs, big but oddly
birdlike in its bright hunger,
eye to eye through the glass
(force-feeding me the fruit I don’t want
to swallow), the black body twining the branches below,
and one red feather eddying down.
And here we are
after the fall, when the earth cracks open
and the summer-steam smothers the lamb’s ears,
the lily buds brown off, refuse to open,
is ticking us on again
like catbrier lashing our nakedness.
Susan Settlemyre Williams is the author of Ashes in Midair (Many Mountains Moving, 2008) and a chapbook, Possession. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Diode, and Shenandoah, among other journals, as well as in various anthologies. She is book review editor for Blackbird.