Cottonmouth – Susan Castillo Street

Cottonmouth

Mama takes me fishing.
At dawn, we go out to the garden.
The earth is black, teeming,
full of purple worms.

We put them in a Mason jar,
set off in her two-tone Chevrolet.
On the radio, Hernando’s Hideaway
sings tunes of dark secluded places.

We drive through haunted woods,
sun filtering down through
trees dripping Spanish moss,
ghostly beards of lost grandees.

Then we reach the river.
The Mermentau is thick and brown.
Roiling currents whirl.  We take out
cane poles, bait our hooks, wait.

When fish strike, the shock of impact
ripples up my arm. We haul them in,
bream, perch, red snappers,
the occasional tough old gar.

Mama threads a line through gills,
puts the stringer in the water at our feet,
A thick coiled form rises up, primeval dragon.
Its mouth yawns nightmare white.

The cottonmouth strikes at the fish.
I run into the forest shrieking.
My mother beats the snake away,
laughs, pulls out our catch.

That night she cooks them for our dinner.
I look out into the dark, shiver.
What about the poison, Mama? I ask.
Nothing can hurt us, honey, she replies.

 

Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London.  She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016), as well as several scholarly monographs and edited anthologies. Her poetry has appeared in Southern QuarterlyProleThe High WindowInk Sweat & TearsMessages in a BottleThe Missing SlateClear PoetryThree Drops from a CauldronFoliate OakThe Yellow Chair ReviewPoetry Shed, and other journals and anthologies.

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