Catching Snakes

Joan McBride

When I was young and the summer sun
was high and the few clouds were like
marshmallows or cotton balls or
smudges of white poster paint,
the garter snakes would sneak from
flowerbed to flowerbed or make
a bee-line across the yard to
a shade tree or the boxwood hedge.
It would be the afternoon after
an evening of croaking frogs, lonely calls of the killdeer
and twilight quiver of dragonflies
whispering the night away.

I remember catching the garter snakes,
their dark green bodies with black stripes,
the flick of the tongues,
the way they stretched towards freedom as I held them
by the tail, the way they peed and
wiggled to be let loose.

And when let go they would zip
away like a ground meteor across the grass.
And then there was Joey,
one of the boys in the neighborhood.
He and his friends would
often come by when my sister
and I were catching snakes.
One day he took a snake from
my hand and snapped it like a whip
and its head flew off with a splatter of
blood. He put the snake down
and watched as the body writhed in
the cool grass.
That summer he trespassed into many
yards looking for snakes,
snapping them like a towel
in a frat house.

He would wash his blood-splattered
shoes at a friend’s house before
being called to dinner.
But never again in my yard.

I think of Joey every summer when I
notice once again that I haven’t seen
a garter snake in years and the dragonflies
don’t wave into the sunset. The birds still
sing but the chorus is hollow.
I hear news of Joey.
He’s near retirement now. He had some
kids and lost a wife to cancer. He found
a God and is a church elder. Still, he posts
a hateful screed these days. He doesn’t
like the way the world is headed
and wants someone to take charge
and lay down the law. He laughs
about sissy men as he laughed about
sissy boys long ago.

I heard he feels
too weak to hurt others.
Forlorn in a world
that doesn’t honor
his work or his anger.
And he sits
in the expanse of his lawn
where no snakes wander
no dragonflies whisper
and the birds long since fled.

%d bloggers like this: