Under Tucson’s Swirl of Stars, I See A Snake And Remember The Farm

by Whitney Vale


Pop of light: I swing the porch door open, startling a coiled snake
that pitches forward beneath black fields and desert stars.

50 years ago, I saw a farm dog kill a rat snake
as it wound beneath lawn chairs under the willow,
dusk fallen; winks of stars pushed day away. Mom screamed;

the dog lunged, sank teeth into the snake’s checkered skin,
and raised and swung it like a 6-foot bat,
slamming it down, a jellied baton, again and again,

to hard summer ground, until it was dead.
I’ll never forget the dog’s frenzy
as the humans grasped their metal chairs, stunned.

Tonight: recalling a boy I loved, I step into the stars—
once he read me Lawrence’s The Snake. I admired
the creature from “the dark door of the secret earth.”

Later, when he dismissed me,
he said “you have too much soul”  

and again tonight, I am back in 3rd grade

catching a green garter like I was playing jacks,
swift grab behind its head—it slipped my hands,
the teacher swept

its chartreuse loveliness out the door, smacked
my palm with a ruler for my secret earth wildness—

and again, tonight, I stand in the open door, arms
stretched wide, under Tucson’s sky haunted by haloed stars—
the snake disappears into the night

and summons underworlds—
my heart breaks into a thousand vessels of light, my tongue
darts vibrating words, possessed by too much soul.

Whitney Vale, MFA Creative Nonfiction from Ashland University, has essays in Entropy, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and The Black Fork Review. Poetry includes a chapbook, Journey with the Ferryman (Finishing Line Press) and poems in Gyroscope Review: The Crone Issue, Harpy Hybrid Review, Prospectus: A Literary Offering, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily and other journals, and forthcoming in Quartet. She has been a finalist for the Joy Harjo award, Barry Lopez award, and Minerva Rising’s memoir award.