I feel funny in a bathing suit.
Like a punctured beach ball
mended with a flimsy band-aid.
But here I am, floating down river,
feet recoiling from slimy
rocks, arms splashing, hatted head bobbing
duck-like around the bend,
where a suntanned woman has unfolded
her chair right at the edge of the water,
and she lounges just ahead, smiling
at the sky. To my right, a large chunk
detaches from a boulder and skitters
forward on wooden legs, pointing a shiny black
nose at my head. “He’s friendly!”
calls the woman while he sniffs
the air muscularly and starts growling,
pacing stiff, back and forth, on the shore.
“He’s just a big baby!” she yells,
her words drowned by snarling,
and while I, soft, pale piece of meat,
bob and splash along, I’m thinking
the only thing to do is offer my hand
and when he bites me, just stick it in
and keep pushing, as far as I can
past the teeth, to wedge tight
between the palate and the tongue.
A wasp is buzzing over my sandwich
“Go away,” I hiss, but it doesn’t listen
so I say it again, louder this time and again
each repetition increases the warning
in my tone of voice and my words’ vibration
a promise to smash him with my fist if he doesn’t listen
I’ll take this rock and crush him, but before I do
he zigzags off upriver along the limnal, whetted shore
and after I’m done eating, I lie back on the blanket and wonder,
am I like the dog or the salami
am I a bark or a bite?
The cicadas’ siren song finally sinks in and I’m just getting used to the shape of my
own thighs and the smell of myself pooling in every crevice as I loll atop a slab of hot
granite and even the shock of water has grown familiar, even the way minnows trail
behind me like hungry acolytes, and I’m sliding dizzy over sunken furry boulders in
the glittering river, knowing nothing but cold on skin and sun in face when it strikes
from behind, clamps tight on my Achilles tendon, and I’m flapping my hands and howling
at the long black snake shooting back under a rock, turning to stumble back towards
the shore while I repeat so I’ll believe it, everything’s going to be alright,
everything’s going to be alright, alright, alright.
About the art (Wild Apples © Karen McRae, 2013): Karen McRae is a photographer who makes my head spin. I have been admiring her from afar on her blog Draw and Shoot for several years now, and every time she posts, she blows my mind. When I wrote this poem about (among other things) feeling disconnected from nature, I though of Karen, since her photographs always show me something about nature I never saw before. In my mind’s eye, Karen strides in big boots along dirt paths, through forests, and along shores, dancing with cause and effect, communing with jellyfish, watching what water does, being trailed by a gaggle of shrouded trees.
P.S. Does it detract from the magic of my almost-poem if I tell you that I really did get bitten by a snake, really?
Ah, the first two lines. Exactly that.
Excellent postcard! No, it doesn’t detract that a snake really bit you.
I mean, I wish I could make that kind of stuff up.
You’re supposed to look funny in bathing suits, Anna, not feel funny. With all the mention of critters in the wild, you didn’t mention if you’d seen any crows ! Sounds like you had a fun time. Ha ! 🙂
No crows in the wild. They prefer cities– sometimes you’ll see a raven or two, though. I watched 1. a mated pair of woodpeckers, 2. ballsy bluejays, and 3. many vultures peripherally circling.
Terrific poem! Magic enhanced, if anything, by veracity.
Yes. Terrific as in terrifying.
When critters attack! Sounds like a horror movie in the making …lots of foreshadowing .
Nothing like a little time in nature to remind you about the food chain.
Nice impressions of lolling about the river. Sounds relaxing. Damn that snake! I used to run trails every weekend and never worried about stepping on a rattle snake. Now that I have a kid I’m obssessed with the notion. Damn snakes! (pitt bulls too… what’s up with that?)
Um, sorry about that. Reading poetry at work …not good for work or poetry. Missed all the hows and just saw the whats. Read again… much better this time.
limnal whetted shore
smiling at the sky
words drowned by snarling
trail behind like hungry acolytes
Ditto what Lisa said about your word choice.
Hope you’re really all all right?
It was a garter snake. Not poisonous, but it bit me hard enough to leave a mark– I could see two trails where his fangs got me but it didn’t really break the skin– no blood– just plain astonishment.
Truth be told, I knew there were no poisonous snakes (besides rattlers) in the area we were visiting. We were playing imaginary Naked & Afraid (have you seen/heard about that show?) as a family, looking up edible flora and dangerous fauna online having long discussions about which survival item we’d bring. So when the snake bit me, I knew I was going to be alright (but that’s not very exciting, right?).
It’s not always idyllic and beautiful, is it? Perhaps I’ve led you astray, misrepresented the great outdoors…
We have our fair share of biting things but happily not poisonous snakes! What sort of snake was it, Anna? Did you have to go for medical treatment? Ugh.
Thank you for your wonderful encapsulation.
Ha. You haven’t led me astray, Karen– you’d have been aware and/or wearing those big boots I imagine. I was ditzy and clueless and blundered upon that poor harmless garter snake.
Thank you, thank you for generously sharing your art. It’s perfect.
This is so good. Especially Day 3. That was my favorite. Why? Because of the way you have of taking a phrase and avoiding cliche or avoiding using words that have been wrung dry. And the way you wrote Day 3 as one long sentence, I could feel something coming, I raced, breathless to the end. If you had punctuated into sentences, the impact of that snake bite would have been lost. You also did a great job of showing that disconnect with nature you mentioned. For me, living the way I do, I take run-ins with bears, yelling at cougars, as great stories to tell and part of life (and scary). You remind me here that my life is actually kind of strange!
I imagine you have to be cagey, assertive, and utterly aware every time you walk outside. As a city-dweller accustomed to strolling unconsciously because the biggest danger is stepping in dog shit, the re-entry into nature is a slow acclimation. (What do you yell at the cougars, I wonder. What are the magic words?)
Actually, what I was yelling at the cougar was ‘get home! Get back in the yard! What are you doing in the street!’ because I was walking home through the woods and thought it was my fawn colored Boxer…stomping toward a cougar and yelling at it is not smart. But maybe they were the magic words because the cougar watched me a moment, and then calmly left…going back into my yard.
Loving this underbelly of your vacation and want more, more.
Some people are ocean people, some lake, river, or land people. Every time I go to the river, I’m compelled to write a poem.
My god, can you write.
It doesn’t distract from your poem when you say you really were snakebitten, though it does make us worry…
It was just a garter snake. Poor guy. I stepped right on him.
Wonderful poem! I love your writing style. 🙂
Loved your poem, it sounds as if you have the same uneasy relationship with nature that I do…although so far I have avoided being bitten by a snake! Glad it was just a garter snake.
I call myself an animal lover, but I am not really a friend of biting stinging things. Admirer. From afar. At best. The images you conjure are magic, quite possibly even more so because they are rooted in the real. Though I was hoping that snake bite was figurative!