As a child, you harbored
Frogs, newts, crayfish, minnows,
Salamanders, turtles, mice, a ferret.

Anything, but snakes, I said,
Failing to make you promise,
Like Adam thinking a simple wish

Would compel obedience
Of the gift his body
Had presented to the world.

Not snakes. Once we encountered
A Massasauga on the trail,
Fat, dusty, coiled like a creature

From The Garden of Earthly Delights.
You seized a stick to poke him
Into strike position.

I yanked you back,
Threw a stone. He slithered
Into the weeds. You said Mom

In the tone of disappointment
Or disapproval I would come to know
So well in the coming years.

I told you how my aunt
In Florida killed a copperhead
With a hoe. I still remember

How its decapitated body
Wriggled. So
No snakes. No snakes in the house.

Tucking you in that night,
I sensed a motion, something flowed
Like a stream of water from

A coffee can on the floor
Beneath your window.
Snapped on the light, you sat

Up abruptly. Dread
In your eyes as I saw it go
Under the dresser.

What boy, what man
Could ever resist the fruity lure
Of anything new or strange.

I tell you again. No.
When they fled the garden
Naked and ashamed

The snake remained
Coiled in the world tree
Waiting for someone like you.

You curl back in sleep
With a hidden smile. When I leave
The room, you’ll find him.

* * * * * *

Joan Colby’s books include Selected Poems [FutureCycle Press], Dead Horses [FutureCycle Press], The Lonely Hearts Killers [Spoon River Poetry Press], The Atrocity Book [Lynx House Press], How The Sky Begins to Fall [Spoon River Poetry Press], The Boundary Waters [Damascus Road Press], Blue Woman Dancing in the Nerve [Alembic Press], Dream Tree [Jump River Press], Chagall Poems [Seven Deadly Sins Press], Beheading the Children [Ommation Press], and Eleven Poems [Interim Press]. 

Her work has been widely published in journals including Poetry, Atlanta Review, GSU Review, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, Mid-American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Kansas Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, Minnesota Review, Western Humanities Review, College English, Another Chicago Magazine and others. 

Her many awards include an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature, the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, Stone County Award for Poetry, Rhino Poetry Award, and the new renaissance Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Bittersweet, is forthcoming in 2014 from Main Street Rag. 

For over 25 years, Joan Colby has been the editor of Illinois Racing News, a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, published by Midwest Outdoors LLC.  She lives with her husband and assorted animals on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois.