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the key to catching snakes
is to not be afraid of their mouths.
when he was little
he would feed the deer their hay
and watch their ears perk at the sound
of distant birds
their coal eyes bled fear
and their noses spat out clouds of breath in
the cold as they shivered
anxiously in the winter snow,
soon to be splattered with their blood
(fed by the hand of their own killer, job 1:21).
he danced on the island
because there was nothing else to do
and it made his feet feel like airplanes
that would take him far away.
other boys would have made fun of him
if he had known other boys;
instead, he practiced his waltz
in front of the silent audience of oak trees
which applauded in the language
of spanish moss,
waving back and forth,
back and forth.
at the end, he bowed and the sky smiled.
her name was annabelle
and she was small with golden curls
and lived on an old plantation.
he drove by there once,
seventeen and in love with her,
and was frightened by
how the trees bent in front
as if whipped at the knees by a vicious wind.
she was his dance partner
and with former slave money,
she paid for them to dance all the way to iowa
and jersey and even california.
in san francisco, he screamed at the pacific
(it was so beautiful and so big and so unfair)
and she slept with him that night
(because he was beautiful and big and there)
and the days became montages of fox trots
and sweaty kisses and
dog-eared maps that led them nowhere.
she broke his heart when he was nineteen.
he went back to the tiny island
because he had nowhere else to go
and home is the place that sings to you,
whether that song is good or not.
he applied online for a job at a local
nature center and now he tells tourists
about the tree frogs that haunt his childhood
and feeds cheap one-sided conversation
to the parrot who drinks it up like an alcoholic
and can only muster back a
“hi my name is buddy.”
the key to catching snakes
is to not be afraid of their mouths;
that is what his father told him
and what he whispers to himself
when he sees a snake by the side of the road.
he loves the color of their scales,
the birth of red and black upon their backs
which weave together and fall apart
and how you can never be disappointed
by something that cannot love you.
he finds boas and cottonmouths
and the corn snakes of his youth
and murmurs southern poetry in their deaf ears,
omitting the syllables and syntax online school
couldn’t teach him,
before re-homing them in safer places
where people are less likely to hurt them.