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Rattlesnake

I have caught the dog
by the scruff of her neck.
I have her by a fistful of fur
and she strains
and she yelps and she growls
at the coil of scales
half-hidden in dead leaves.

My father has gone inside
to fetch his pistol
and I am waiting,
I watch the snake
and it watches me.

The stony slit-eyes narrow.
The tongue spears the air,
tastes the dog, tastes
the cold sweat under my arms.
The fangs are hidden in the mouth
and I am trying to remember
the length of the strike,
to gauge the distance between
my body and venom,

but my brain is buzzed,
the sound of the shaking tail
like a thousand hungry locusts:
it sets the teeth, it raises the hackles,
it says I am angry and frightened
and I bite! I bite!

and then Crack! Crack!,
my father has put
a pair of ragged holes
in the serpent’s head.

— I must still hold the dog,
until the shovel blade
clips the head from
the body still writhing,
until the head is buried
and can no longer bite,
and then I can let go.

I count the rattles,
one, two, three
thirteen in all,
and a body longer than I am tall.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.
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