Snake

A poem by John Burnside

As cats bring their smiling
mouse-kills and hypnotised birds,
slinking home under the light
of a summer's morning
to offer the gift of a corpse,

you carry home the snake you thought
was sunning itself on a rock
at the river's edge:
sun-fretted, gracile,
it shimmies and sways in your hands
like a muscle of light,
and you gather it up like a braid
for my admiration.

I can't shake the old wife's tale
that snakes never die,
they hang in a seamless dream
of frogskin and water,
preserving a ribbon of heat
in a bone or a vein,
a cold-blooded creature's
promise of resurrection,

and I'm amazed to see you shuffle off
the woman I've know for years,
tracing the lithe, hard body, the hinge of the jaw,
the tension where sex might be, that I always assume
is neuter, when I walk our muffled house
at nightfall, throwing switches, locking doors.

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