by Kathy Nelson

Stepping off the porch, I saw two feet away:
a rag left carelessly, or someone’s hat.
My mind refused, relented, finally let in
the looping, muscled form, diamond skin,
the awful sentience centered in the coil.

Along the curving body, rusty rhombs,
their brown rims joining at the spine,
like weathered saddles. Silent
and discrete, the tail was tucked
beneath the sequined sheath.

In stillness, curves looped endlessly
around, narrowing,
reversing, narrowing again—
delicate neck, the wide, flat jaw,
narrowing to arrow. Copperhead.

Big as a dinner plate, she sunned,
beside the step. I hugged the furthest
possible edge, watched for movement,
searched for eyes, a glance—if she’d return
my gaze, we could be friends.

She dozed or watched, eye slits fixed.
She never moved. For weeks, after she left,
all night her babies swam in the streaming street,
quick six-inch sine waves, lifted heads.
All night, my ungloved hands reached

deep into garden weeds, pulled up
unseen forms. All night her coils unleashed,
propelled that lethal head, those fangs.
And every day I looked for her beside the step,
her absence still there in the flattened grass.

Kathy Nelson is a poet living in Asheville, North Carolina. Her poems have appeared in US 1 Worksheets, Off the Coast, The Cortland Review, Switched-on Gutenberg, The Paterson Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review and other print and online journals. Her chapbook, Cattails, was recently published by Main Street Rag.

About Friends—One summer day, a copperhead took up sunning just next to my porch step. Although she was there only a short while, my fascination with her, my terror of her, my paralysis about what to do about her became a landmark of my inner and outer journey.