Two yards met at the corner: one,
Spruce, clipped, neat as a deacon
Sporting his gold chain and vest; the
Other, unkempt, forlorn; none
The less, one such as youths seek on
Nice days ~ paradise to zesty
Devil-darers who rode untamed
Limbs to submission. Where it dipped
Into a hollow, an old stone
Wall shored the soil. One girl claimed
The top lawn, its blades nicely clipped;
The other, the base. None had known
The origin of the wall, so
Children liked to believe its past
Lay in mystery, although
Nothing shored their belief. One last
Hindrance finished the division:
A grim guardian, sharp-clawed,
Unkinder than apple or peach
In fall, dropped thorns with precision,
To surprise the bare feet
Of the two who played beneath, each
Forbidden unto her neighbor's
Yard. They made it their day's labors
To gather thorns ('The same thorns,'
Said one, 'in Christ's crown.' 'Oh, no-one
Would wear that,' said the other),
And they quarrelled who owned the tree.
When, slow, along the cold, smooth stone,
The snake appeared, silently,
Its char-gray body, long and still,
Seemed...shadow on stone or a limb,
Fallen. Thoughtless devil ~
He had no refuge! His unjust
Intrusion paled the girls' faces.
Boldly, he stopped, at eye level
With her who stood in the dell.
His subtle eye, dark as places
Below, and deep as an old well
Hidden among wet, black leaves,
Met her clear, gray eye...
And willing seemed to share unspoken
Some ancient secret. Her friend screamed.
Their odd communion was broken,
"Snake, snake!" Her shrill cries of delight
Brought the others. The victim seemed
To wait, his fated doom invite.
Accepting theirs, all the children
Ringed around with rocks, thrilled within
By the lust of hate. Stone clattered
Against stone, and stone battered
Silent flesh, until the snake lay
Broken against the harsh wall. They
Picked him up and raced, screaming
Across the yard. A tall boy held
The snake above his head. Its head
Trailed the ground. The snake, in sunlight,
Looked ordinary, limp and dead.
Children formed a magical ring
Of blond, brunette, black and red
In the light on the cool, green field.
Laughter rose, in fear ~ gleeful, wild,
As the boy darted the snake's head
At first one, and then another child.
"We have killed the snake," the children
Joyous began to sing. "We
Have killed... We have killed... We have killed."
Then, from the mouth of the brute spilled,
Dark as forbidden fruit, a blood
Red drop that stained a bare white foot.
One child stepped back from the ring ~ she
Whose eye his eye had met. She chose
To quit the ritual; alone,
Seemed to know ages past and those
To come (though knew not why). A moan
Betrayed her doubt. She glanced to see
If the sign was seen, and he who
Held the snake laughed; then so, too,
Did she, but hollow rang the tone!
Once, twice more, she swiped at the spot;
Rejoined the ring, out of season
With herself (although she could not
Put her finger on the reason).
~ ©1983 D.K. Pritchett