Summer/Fall 1997 • Vol. XIX No. 3/4 Poetry |

The Reign of Snakes

1. Revival During the heat of summer days, they sprawl in the shade of sumac glades or hunt the bottom-watered thickets—buck brush and blackberry—dining on mice. And beneath every yellow pine for miles, the scaly, pulse-quickening sticks from each tree's unlimbing. At dawn and dusk you can find the snakes on rock face shelves, basking, sun still funneling up from basalt. There are side canyon gullies, drywashes and scumbled slides, half stone, half soil, and shed skins blow in them like a snow of translucent leaves, while deep inside the winter chambers, a boil of approximate sleep, lidless eyes unseeing, a fist of snakes as big as a man. I stopped one night, road-drunk, at the arc-lit revival tent of a trinity of backwoods preachers, in Arkansas or the bootheel of Missouri, where a graying, hortatory praisemaster sang hymns of joy, and his stern wife damned us all to fire. I rose to leave, filled with free ice tea, a fistful of tracts in my hand, then stopped, as the pale, t

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Robert Wrigley teaches at the University of Idaho. His sixth book, Lives of the Animals, will be published later this year by Penguin, which also published his Reign of Snakes, winner of the 2000 Kingsley Tufts Award.

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