George Ellison

Beneath the Flaming Cardinal Flower

August in the Smokies is a wet month
a time of looming thunderheads & squalls
that sweep the watersheds leaving
a dripping silence of glisten & black muck.
But should it turn dry & parch the ridges
the natives know
& will tell you in passing
that the copperheads will come down to the creekbeds
seeking moisture & the prey that gather there
among the rocks.

Coming from your shack 
to get water or to bathe
you will not see him,
dark chocolate waving hourglasses over brown,
poised upon the rock
beneath the flaming cardinal flower.
He is a modality of intentness beyond yours.
He will not coil.
Drawn string, cocked like a goose’s neck,
he’ll deliver himself to you with full force of being
& you will have no doubt.

In your pain & in your sickness,
that pulsing nausea which will, in time, circumvent the pain,
do not allow resentment or even surprise to set in,
for this snake — call him liquid stone — was fulfilling
not an obligation but a space in his existence
that you entered.

Unless you are very young or very old or unlucky
you will not die, but you won’t forget
that in August when it’s dry
the copperheads come 
down the ridges
seeking water.