Rattlesnake Roundup

Barry was my first real love. We had a lot working against us, though, including my going to college 1,000 miles away from home. We made a good try of it, but we split during my sophomore year, and that was the last time I saw him.

We had a lot of happiness while we were together, and I learned from him — including about the wonderful process of learning about a new lover, not just sexually, but in every way. My discovering a scar on his inner arm one night led to a story from him, a poem from me, and my first professional publication.

Rattlesnake Roundup

(for Barry)

Every kid from Sweetwater’s gotta do this.

After, they sip whiskey
And exchange ragged scars
In the meat of their inner elbows.

It’s all a big father-son bash.

Piles of hooks and croker sacks
And hardened leather gauntlets
Fend off reptiles’ lethal gnawings.

The fifth one nailed me — a big bull rattler.

Your brother slashed open the double punctures
Tattooed on your sunburned arm,
Cussing you through mouthfuls of blood and venom.

It just corkscrewed in my hands.

You must have frozen for that moment,
Struck by the grace
As much as by the fangs.

1987

This poem appeared in Oxygen.

(photo: Wikipedia)

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