Snake Cane

Norman Amos

Sometimes Virginia Creeper,
a tendril of honeysuckle or wild
grape, will wind around the limb
of a young hickory and, as both grow,
squeeze its spiral into the wick.
Old women who tap the ground
before they walk, ready to rap danger
on its head, tobacco farmers well-versed
in the habits of serpents, carry such twisted sticks.
Search for them in our tick-breeding woods—
mumbo-jumbo of undergrowth, full-throated
green, saplings bent, knitted together with briars,
mayapples pushing past skunk cabbages
and then the dying that comes with the first frost,
oak leaves baked brown and sycamore platters
curling inward on the ground, poison ivy
dried up to one hairy vine thick as a man’s wrist.
Step down into the furrows of an old road bed,
deer stand draped in black quiet as wildness itself,
easy to miss among the doe-legged trees.
Daddy sang, I’m the man who rode the mule
around the world
, voice ragged as a forgotten
trotline. I was born ten thousand years ago.
Bright leaf tobacco cured in the smoke.
I tended the low fires.
Black night rustled
up close to me and sometimes I caught a glimpse
of a thing. The cedars breathed by the fence row.
You have to find the wood first, branch of desire
wound round with grapevine, nearly strangled
and then: growing on anyway.
I’ll paint it like a shining rattlesnake,
body spinning up the stick.
Your hand will rest on its head,
devil eyes subdued, looking up at you,
fangs following the way the handle bends,
benign in their whiteness, polished by hand-
sweat and the oily traces of a hundred dusty hunts—
mountain feists yapping along with the rhythm
of the staff, rabbit cry dark as dried blood
in the autumn wind. Silent rattles cover the end
that hits the dirt, seeking strikes
in high summer’s high grass,
feeling a human way through deep leaves,
hollow-wise, rocks holding heat,
or shaking the snake-rich shadows of blackberry canes
before the hand reaches in for the fruit.

Annie Woodford is originally from Henry County, Virginia. A graduate of Hollins College’s MA program in Creative Writing, she now lives in Roanoke City, Virginia and teaches developmental English at Virginia Western Community College.

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