Dominique Traverse – Four Poems

Taking Up Serpents

To hear the old timers tell it,
my great granddaddy,
an oak of a man,
got careless that day
in the woodshed
when he pulled the snake
from the kenneling
with a garden hoe
and stepped a heavy boot
down behind its eyes,
and stretched its flesh
up his tree trunk of a leg,
pulled his knife,
to cut off,
not the head,
but the rattlers.
They looked like
an ear of Indian corn,
every bronzed kernel
perfectly rounded
and stacked
one upon the other
in straight little rows.
The weight of his foot
shifted with excitement
and the snake slipped
out from under him,
twisted its head backward
and brought the bite
along with it.
He stomped the life
right out of it
with the leg
that hadn’t turned
deep purple and blue,
then knotted his handkerchief
tight below the knee.
Luckily, he had been bitten
once before
by a copperhead,
when he was hardly
tall enough to see over
a field of summer hay,
its venom still
in his veins
all these years later,
the only thing
that saved him.


Summers At Grandma’s

The raspberries hang heavy,
swollen on their fuzzy stems
and I spend the morning
reaching scratched arms
back through brambles
and briars to pick the deep red
honey of summer.


In the creek
every Saturday,
I scrape away,
with wrinkled toes,
the periwinkle snails
from each host rock
and watch until
they are lost
inside the white current
or black flash of a trout.


Mud daubers build a nest
in the eaves of the old barn
and I listen to the hum
of each pipe, low and deep,
like a great hymn
from a Sunday organ.


The Goodbye Child

My love, my tenant. My heart was tied to the headboard
to make you. The air softened and I opened myself in tears.
I feel the end. Somewhere in me, lived a beginning.

But the change came all at once. Red, and you were gone.
It was not as difficult as I expected. You hardly existed –
fingerless, featureless.

It was night, and I left walking through dark’s damp grass.
I turned, but did not go back. I saw what might have been
your life. A yellow square shining through the doorway.


Stories I Tell

You listen to them.
The ones that come in short bursts and the ones that drag on
into the evening, night, morning.
My brother and the fish story.
My father and the cancer story.

Sometimes you ask questions
and I watch your Adam’s apple rise up in your throat
the way a cork eases up the wet neck of a bottle of pale yellow wine.
I study your lips and way they shape the air.
The sheer mechanics of your strong jaw.
The up and down variation of your spongy tongue.

And when you stop, I answer.
But what I want to do is fall to my knees,
crawl all the way to some holy place,
and thank God for creating a voice,
unhurried and burning,
a soft coal in the stove of my soul.