In a world full of poison you survived
The copperhead you carried into
Your mother’s kitchen whipping
Its tail while she screamed. Your father
Beheaded it with a shovel on the linoleum
Then beat you blue. That was just
The first. Later came water moccasins,
Rattlers, asp at breast
And scorpion at the heel, black widow
Hiding in the laundry minding
Her own bloody hourglass until your hand
Reached in: the world provided
No such end but left you after
All that for me and for me counting down
Bite by bite what eats you.
Copyright © Katharine Coles
Katharine Coles‘ sixth poetry collection Flight, will be out from Red Hen Press in 2016. Recent poems and essays have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, and Crazyhorse. A 2012-13 Guggenheim Fellow, she teaches at the University of Utah.
Curator’s Notes: I heard this poem for the first time at the CityArts Reading Series in the Salt Lake Public Library & couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. While some might argue that all poems are love poems, Eileen Myles taught me long ago that one saves one’s best lines for the love poem—they are distinguishable by the long wait of their lines & the long weight of their lines’ lives. I am so moved by the way this small poem turns so gracefully on its axis in the last line of stanza two: the world might collapse, explode, bend, break, or finally take a long breath in that space. Instead, it begins.