You could say it wore a skirt of ivy flounces —
still had that much self-respect,
hadn’t realized it was dead yet, kept pumping
sap to the ghost of its branches
that rose like a glass dream. You could
call it a sort of Viennese table or a mess
after breakfast: spilled syrup
without the pancakes. Or that it was the sliced off
breast of a saint — a wound
with red ants quietly nursing, and
blow flies — those busy iridescent bruises —
swarming in like Hells Angels
on a rumor of free beer. Or
that it was no longer
a plant at all, but the corpse
of an animal. You could offer
that the maple might have crushed
your roof in a storm or that you had to have the light
each morning the way a child needs a big glass
of milk. Or that it was the El Niño winter
that made everything crazy,
made February break into a fever
and the six-legged drunks wake up
five weeks early. You could say that the stump
was a bitter fountain or maybe
a wild barrel of hope spilling
its sweet water over the ivy frills and bark, and into
the dirt making a kind of dark batter, or
that it was glad to be drenched in its last
wet joy, as if green, or the love of green,
was what it lived by.
There’s the wag and where’s the rest
of him? Quick
S of matterless
motion. Ever-changing signature.
Belt upon the floor without its shirts and pants.
O where is the hard evidence
of being? There is no fear like fear of snakes
unless it is thrill, its white cousin.
The chance encounter
with a milky stocking caught on a log.
Is that the definition of ghost
or careless love–that slipping free
of all restrictions, all consequence?
There is no thrill like the thrill of snakes
though for some of their length
is a form of love.
Once I knew a boy who embraced their loopiness,
draped a green tree python
over his soft shoulder–
oxbow of a leather river,
long cool arm of a movie star,
sequined esophagus he stroked
and never found its clinginess too much.
The python? It couldn’t get enough
of the boy’s 98.6 and nuzzled his neck
with its wise triangular head.
There is no love like the love of the unloved
unless it is escape.
Consider the liquidity of the snake,
the unstoppable timeline of its form,
how a thin one pours
through your grip like toothpaste.
In a pet store a corn snake
slid like a lost friend
from the hole between my finger and thumb
and would not come back to my fist–
inch after inch
There is no flight like the flight of snakes,
and it is not only that they slither,
constrict, sometimes inject the cruel
hypodermic of death.
If, as I do, you fear them,
consider the happiness of seeing
a snake’s skeleton,
of warming your hands
over the pale radiator of its back
or dancing so fast upon its trainless tracks
you grow wings. It’s that
or the unbearable vigilance of living.
On that day the passenger pigeon
will return. Your sunburn will decide
not to become cancer. You’ll remember
where you left your wallet, and it will
be there undisturbed. You’ll forget
your lover told you to hang yourself
with the telephone cord. Your neighbor
with the loud radio will sell her house.
You will know which papers to keep
and which to throw out. You’ll find the friend
you seek at break of day. Thereafter
you will be known by another name.
Lynn Levin’s most recent collection of poems, Imaginarium (Loonfeather Press), was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine‘s 2005 Book of the Year Award. Her poems have appeared in Boulevard, Hunger Mountain, Margie, Many Mountains Moving, on Garrison Keillor’s show, The Writer’s Almanac, and many other places. A poet laureate of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Lynn Levin teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and at Drexel University, where she is also the executive producer of the cable TV show, The Drexel InterView.The poems featured here are from Lynn Levin’s collection, Imaginarium, which is available through Barnes and Noble or directly from Loonfeather Press.