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Songs of the Two Names

(Crotalus horridus » ringer to stand your hair on end)

As slow as dark water, the snake esses
across the old trail’s roots and rocks. I slap
my staff in front to watch it coil, shudder
at its fierce buzz. This sound makes me a boy
again, the catcher who stalked south ledges
for garters, blacks, hognoses. Rattlesnakes went
to true believers, who caught the serpents
to handle in church, a show of faith raised
over flesh and saved from venom. I knew
better than to pick rattlers up, left them
where they lay, in brown-banded coils on gray
limestone, that rattle bristling scalp and neck
and goose-bumping all my skin, ringing out
such wild fear, so animal, so unsaved.