The Year of Snakes


Record summer rains
painted the live oaks wild green,
and snakes rose up from the ground,
swam from flooded pastures to the barn.

We could hear the horses
scream over the TV in our living room.

When the rain let up, we’d go wading
through the floods, check the stables,
find one or two long slender bodies stomped into the mud.

By August, the whole house was writhing.

They curled up with the clothes in my dresser,
crowded in the toes of my rainboots;
you could almost hear them hissing on the pipes after a hot shower.

Autumn soaked up most of the water,
but the snakes remained.

Dad caught them, showed us
the chalked line from each eye to the jaw hinge of a cottonmouth;
burnt sienna hourglasses along the back of a copperhead;
a king snake’s cream belly.

He taught us which were venomous, to use the flat head of a shovel to
stun them and the blade to cut off their heads.

He taught us which were harmless, to put one hand out in front of a snake to distract it,
snatch the tail with the other hand,
release it in our shriveled garden to keep the rats out.

All winter we caught and killed snakes,
wrapped ourselves in skins.

That spring Mom served
snake fritters, jerky, a hearty stew,
and I grew two inches taller.

Then came the breeding knots, tangles
we could lift by the bundle, return to the woods and waters.

Months passed without a single slither, but
Mom swore they were still in the walls, the attic,
swore they were the only things keeping the house from caving.

About the Author

Arielle Hebert holds an M.F.A in poetry from North Carolina State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod Journal, Raleigh Review, Crab Orchard Review, Willow Springs, Split Rock Review, and Bombay Gin, among others. She won the 2019 North Carolina State University Poetry Contest judged by Ada Limón. She was nominated for Best New Poets Anthology in 2017.


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