Oyster Boy Review 04  
  Spring 1996
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» Levee 67


Snakes Among the Children

Jeffrey Joe Nelson

Snakes have the faces of our genitals.
The dark seam spewing a fire tongue,

filigree of semen or come, an anodyne or poison
depending on how it is administered.

I am slowly finding out it is easier
to be found than to find oneself out.

Why am I thinking of snakes
when I am surrounded by children?

Asian, African, pale-Caucasian, all-American
children of mechanics, secretaries, single

working mothers, single working fathers,
fastfood servers, construction workers,

hospital aids, salespeople, carpenters,
new-car-driving-slaves, all shouting,

eyes full of tears and simultaneously
malice, foolery, glee. They ride, ride, ride

slowing only when parents arrive
or maybe in the cool, lime glow of shaded lamps,

phosphorescent pulse of tee-vee screens,
grow weary and sleep.

Amongst them, very much an island
of having been, I think of snakes

darting from small, gleaming, pink-red mouths,
the dark crevices of tiny bodies,

sudden circular burrows among field grass and marsh,
beneath crumbling rock,

and piles of raked, moldering leaves,
from the dark unwound viscera of decay

a snake, the child's tongue striking like steam.
Each time I am approached by

brown, erratic limbs and wide, curious eyes
always touching, voices piercing, I am deafened.

The other adults all float
in a space of their own.

Janitor, nutritionist, the other teachers,
move among the children without touching one another.

We are glaciers
or perhaps snakes of different species.

However, our impulses remain unchanged, to shut coal,
black eyes, slits of seeing, against

the children's blinding halos.
So many children, each one siphoning off a little

energy until the glaciers or snakes are numb,
frozen in the moorings of chair, desk, brief respite

in a car seat, watchful, inundated to curiosity,
the trampling of feet that seek us out.

"Ohhhh!" a cry goes out,
the children moan in ecstasy.

"Look!" they shout and crowd,
"A snake!" and then a hush overtakes the room

as the word rises and balloons deliciously overhead.