Snakes (Virginia, 1940)

Anthony Thwaite

Down in the creek, snakes:
Snakes in the opposite wood.
There were snakes everywhere.
This was new. This was good.

At home in England, snakes
Were pets you kept in a cage.
Here they slipped free, and swam.
This was a golden age.

Most folk I knew hated snakes,
Shrank if I brought one back
And let it run over my arm
Or gathered and then lay slack.

Whipsnakes, cornsnakes, snakes
Swollen, and black, and green,
Crept through my days and nights.
This was the primal scene.

And there were other snakes,
Ones to be cautious of:
Cottonmouths, copperheads, once
A rattler I saw in a grove.

How to account for these snakes
In a boy uprooted at ten
In a war that spanned a world
He would not see again?

Eden did not have snakes:
Only one snake, it is said.
We know what that single snake
Did. Or so we have read.

I had not read it then.
All I knew was I loved the things.
Years on, I call them all back,
Sinuous rememberings.