American Life in Poetry: Column 586

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

This past autumn, pruning a big lilac bush, I found a snakeskin that some bird had woven into its nest. Here's a poem about another find, from Stephen Behrendt, who lives and teaches in Nebraska. His most recent book is Refractions, from Shechem Press.

Snakeskin

Pruning back the old spirea bushes
that sprawled for years in summer's heat,
I bared the snake skin, a yard and a half long:
its naked empty length rippled in the streaming wind
lifting its ghostly coils from the dead shoots
that scraped the slough from the slithering body
that shed it in that narrow, shaded space.

I paused—who wouldn't?—shears poised,
slipped off gray canvas gloves, extracted
the sere, striated casing from the brown stalks
that had held it, silent, hidden.

I coiled the paper-thin curling sheath with care,
delicately, eased it into a simple squatty box
for keeping, for care, for my daughters
to take to school, to show, to explain
how some sinuous body we've never glimpsed,
that haunts about our shrubs, our porch,
left for us this translucent, scale-scored wrapper,
this silent hint of all that moves unseen.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2014 by Stephen C. Behrendt, “Snakeskin,” (Refractions, Shechem Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Stephen C. Behrendt and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.