on poisonous snakes in puerto rico
BY ALYSE BENSEL
Kansas takes many forms:
cottonmouth, copperhead, massasauga,
prairie, diamondback, timber.
Slit pupils, the extra pit between nostrils and mouth.
A mouth fitted for fangs. A single row of scales
laid like a brick garden border.
I stumble on the medusa head
neighborhood plains garter snakes tangle
into during the weeks near spring.
I show cautious children the photo
on my phone matching the snake. No poison.
The snakes are stubborn as cats. They wait
underneath the shadow of the neighbor’s tires. I coax
them in another direction. My first
snake was a pencil-sized garter pissing
itself in my hand, making my skin slick enough
to slip away. I know there are no poisonous snakes
in Puerto Rico. It’s the pulse of something
that’s all spine. I fear that kind
of exposure, with nothing to protect me
but muscle and sun-drunk stillness.
Alyse Bensel’s poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Quarterly West, New South,Bone Bouquet, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Not of Their Own Making (dancing girl press) and Shift (Plan B Press) and serves as the Book Reviews Editor at The Los Angeles Review. A PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Kansas, she lives in Lawrence.
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