Volume 69, Number 1 · Fall 2019

The Snake

We thought it squashed, a spotty
                        tan tube on dusty
                        asphalt. Still
undulate of S –
“crushed by the grinding weight
of superstition” –
                        unspooled from
                        a sheltering bush
along the ditch, camouflaged,
noticed just in time.

In the distance, mountains
                        dipped in clouds.
                        Somewhere east
it rained. Staying me,
in “the natural order of things
unimaginably vast and complex,”
                        you stoned the snake.
                        Bad luck, I cried.
I didn’t know
I thought that, but felt it as stone

after stone whistled straight
                        on target,
                        understanding being
one of humans’ most austere
pleasures: Not killing, no,
nothing so absolute;
                        curiosity more like it,
                        the inexplicable having
occurred: at the last moment each stone
swerved eerily off in parabolic arcs,

as if freed from some terrible purpose
                        by an orb of protection
                        we couldn’t see
shielding the snake.
Anyway, you said, turning,
throwing a last shot, it’s dead.
                        But I was lured
                        to look back,
blink as stone veered,
snake braided and was gone.




n.b. Lines quoted and (in one case) paraphrased are drawn not quite randomly from The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt

Cynthia Hogue has published nine poetry collections, including In June the Labyrinth (2017). Her co-translations include Fortino Sámano (The Overflowing of the Poem), from the French of Virginie Lalucq and Jean-Luc Nancy, which won the 2013 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. Hogue’s honors include two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and the H. D. Fellowship at Yale University. She is the inaugural Marshall Chair in Poetry and Emerita Professor of English at Arizona State University.