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?