Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eve and the Serpent...again

In mid-conversation with neighbors, I stepped into the hallway to put down some items still left in my car from a trip to the beach two weeks ago. As I lowered them to the floor, a movement caught my eye. For a few seconds, I was frozen there, staring at the snake inside of my house. Sprawled across the hallway floor, he looked up at me.
I knew his kind. I knew those patterns along his back, his diamond-shaped head, and the way his body thickened in the middle. I knew the pose he coiled into almost instantly upon seeing me there. In the wild, I back away. I'm on their turf. I have never killed a venomous snake in the wild. That is our agreement. In return, they stay away from my property. If they don't, all bets are off.

I've dealt with many serpentine encounters, having long sought the company of the forest as a refuge from the wildness of daily life. Once, jumping across a creek, I dislodged a bed of over-wintering snakes from a pile of debris. About 30 of them were suddenly visible, writhing there together in the creek below. I got out of there fast. I've lifted king snakes and black snakes with sticks to move them from where they lie sunning on walking trails. I've said hello to them as they peer down at me from tree branches. I've quickly passed by copperheads coiled in brush; and I once helped cut free a moccasin caught by a fisherman's wire. These are natural, normal encounters with serpents that don't bother me.

But in my front hallway? That rattled even me. I hate surprises. And I'm using the word hate lightly here...

Keeping the snake in sight, I stepped outside and asked my son to get me the garden hoe or small shovel. Curious, he asked why. Honest with him always, I gave the reason. But he's had his own encounters with snakes, and stood wide eyed, scared, and unable to move. The neighbor’s son found what I was looking for, and I turned towards the snake. "Sorry, little brother," I said.

Later I let the neighborhood kids have a good look from a safe distance. "Don't pick these guys up," I say. "Don't go anywhere near them." My son, scarred from his spring encounter, did not need this lesson. He held back, watching me. And I thought of my own childhood, my own mother, how she would call for my father in the event of emergencies such as this one. On the phone, she chastised me for killing the snake myself instead of going to a neighbor’s husband for help. "Oh, please, there wasn't time to even consider that," I said. Not to mention that it never, ever even entered my mind to do it.

Still I wonder about the image of me killing the snake, then discarding its remains, will affect my son in years to come. I wonder what he will grow to expect a woman to be capable of. I think of women like my mother, secure with a partner for so long that it doesn't even occur to them to handle a task themselves. It is too late now for me to ever adopt that persona, for far too long I've been my own hero. Still, my son's memory of me walking to the creek with a decapitated snake hanging from the end of a hoe is quite different than my own memory of my mother pulling her feet up into a chair, calling out for my father because she saw a mouse in the house.

How does each memory affect our interpretation of what a woman should be? I'd like to think about this more, to write about it, to pontificate with peers and scholars and explore the concepts and realities created by the absence of Adam, but sadly, I need to be at work soon.

There isn't even time to consider it.

Apologizing to Serpents

A flash of reddish brown diamonds
amongst the clover
and my heart stops
I can smell the venom
I am death, the serpent seems to say
Perhaps not to you
but to the child behind you
who plays
at striking distance.

I don’t make a move
or sound
My spade is in my hand
My son is five
Curious age
And he plays
at striking distance.

Copperheads are quick
but I am faster
My spade meets flesh and bone
In an instant
Eve slays the serpent
before there is a chance
for the world to come undone.
Later, as I cover my deed with dirt
I remember the serpent’s protest
as its life ended
And I wonder if there might have been another way
Everything desires to live
and what was its sin, really?

But in the absence of Adam
Eve must be swift.
Her shoulders sag at times
from a weight that should be shared.

Still, death does not stalk my house tonight
I sleep with my spade in my hand
and wake up
feeling strong.

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