Jeffrey Franklin

Black Pattern On a Mocha Ground

If not “quick as a snake,” then quick enough
  I bring the brick’s end down
On his head in one tamping motion.
  But that cliché is wrong: snakes take life

Slowly, depending more on camouflage,
  The failed perception of others, than speed.
Bud, a big black man whose bad heart
  Sent bolts down his arm, told me

The thing scared him most in Nam
  Wasn’t “gooks or bombs” but a cobra,
Hood flared, reared belt-high,
  Parting a column of soldiers on a dusty road

Faster than a man could run. Bud
  Lashed the air with his arms to show me,
The arm that later that summer,
  Laying bricks, struck him. There is

A distinction between aggression and self-
  Defense few of us grant to snakes.
Lost on Bud, it was not lost
  On the Vietcong. A summer before,

The war raging beyond the edges of my
  Perception, I hiked Chilhowie Mountain,
Stopping to eat a half pack of Fig Newtons
  In the unmanned fire tower on top.

In all directions, the green canopy
  Beneath which, hiking down, I caught
An ancient black snake and fed him
  Into the sleeve of my shirt. I tell you,

All the clichés are wrong.
  Smooth and dry as talcum,
He wound around my heart three times,
  And, further down the slope, lent me

Nerve to trap an arm-thick rattler
  With a forked stick, slide my hand
Up behind the flanges of its skull and carry it —
  Mouth sprung — to the nature center’s terrarium.

I am not a snake, nor am I a Vietcong.
  Even so, neither can I understand
The failed perception by which
  My neighbor, or his teenage son,

Swerved to hit or did not swerve
  To miss the snake crossing our road.
His perfect tube is ruptured: a yellow
  Loop of intestine hangs out,

A staggered pattern of obsidian chips
  Floats the mocha ripples of his back,
And I, coils around my heart,
  Bring the brick down hard.