Monday, October 26, 2020

Before We Turned Back

“There are rattlesnakes everywhere” he says,
and so I see that there are rattlesnakes
everywhere: every twisted dead branch,
every constellation of sun-dappled gravel
is a coiled reptile. Unsteady on my feet, I trip
over the spiky heads of diamondbacks,
twist my head at every breezy rustle of the weeds.
The ridge is silent save for the distant gush
of the river far below. A hawk swoops into
the shimmering water and rises with
a wriggling steelhead. The black ears
of a coyote disappear into the brush.
A rabbit bobs across the path. The air
hangs thick with fragrant sage.
There are no trees, only scrub and fence posts.
Black beetles tick across the gravel.
Horseshoe overbites cut into the dust.
Tire tracks from mountain bikes
weave across the path.
A bullet-chewed sign warns of West Nile Virus.
He reads it an stops
and looks around anxiously,
as if searching for mosquitoes, seeing only
a broken bottle, a rusty nail.
When the sun starts to slip behind the hills,
signalling the psychopaths
to stir in their shacks,
we turn and head rapidly back the way we came,
cutting through clouds of gnats
and crackling grass eager to burn,
mincing gingerly over the writhing masses
of awakening snakes


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