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Snake by the River

Swimming upstream, in the deep part they have dammed,
I am a white fish nosing and breasting,
Largest and noisiest of the river animals,
With distinctive bum which bounces up and down.

At such well publicised approach, the other creatures
Minutes ago found hideouts in the weeds
And now they squat there, silently wondering
While the commotion incautiously proceeds.

Only, on a low scoop of willow branch to water,
Unperturbed, and hanging in the medium between
The branch and the stream, the green bank
And the leaf-shadowed air, here is a green snake,

Looped and lank, careless as the afternoon,
Careless who passes, what their purposes.
By acknowledgement, he unhooks an eye, one.
Three times the tongue moves; each within time’s merest section.

The white fish abandons his disguise, stands
Up to his thighs in the river, and a moment
Of pure surprise, of frank, transparent fear,
Shocking like new cold water, overflows him.

The string of bubbles from the mud around his feet,
The Malaga-Madrid, shrieking across fields,
A man who passes singing on his bike
Invade the moment, fix it, it is now,

It is done. But, for a moment, the water,
Handling the white thighs of the standing man,
Has linked him to the body of the snake
Where it dips its curl of smudged green inches in

And, when the human stare and the snake’s eye
Meet in the air, the moment’s tension
Has held them both still, as mutually they weigh
Their sense of danger, and of recognition.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author