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In this faded family photo—
Horton, Kansas, '36—
they are just two farmhands in overalls,
kept, by a bowed velvet cordon,
from some gala event. Except it's a rattlesnake
strung between them,
five, perhaps, six feet in length
and thick as my young father's outstretched arms.
One might think his pride, that is,
anticipation of us,
would dictate looking at the camera,
but he seems to be eyeing
the slick, intricate patterns of risk
now relaxed in his hand.
Then again, given his uneasy, strained half-smile,
he could be checking my grandfather's grip,
the snake so freshly dead,
making sure any reflex is under control—
suspecting the undulant weight of it,
that he could never really let go.

Mark Cox

Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984-2015
Serving House Books

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