Coiled like a vine along the lower wall,
it seemed to be the vine: then it moved a little,
its orange head lifted, body a rope of silk,
the hourglass bands around it like a bracelet.
I stepped back for the shovel. When I thrust
it down, the viper slid—the thinnest sound—
straight for my leg. But first it hesitated
not long enough to see the rim of trees,
to see the houses leaning toward the hills,
to see the hills far off, the gray-blue mountain,
to see the pink crape myrtle in the yard,
to see the front porch with its pail of berries,
to see my knees, blue-stained from berry picking,
to see the bare skin shining at my ankle,
to see, if it sees at all, the chance before it,
to see what I might see for the last time
if no one came, if I was among the few
for whom its venom is a lethal poison.
And then, whatever it saw or didn't see
of the world and plunging blade was stopped forever.
I left it for the birds. And the birds came,
the black ones, circling, mantling in the shade.
The day went on just as it had beforehand
except for a quiver under every leaf
and grass blade, something silent, slithering, driven
by danger or revenge. For they must have known.
But there was the garter snake curled on the sidewalk,
sunning, the way a baby takes a nap
on a blanket at a picnic, undisturbed
by voices, singing, even an argument,
or the sun's passage over the summer garden,
whatever's come and gone.
The Yale Review