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Robert Siegel

The Serpent Speaks

Soul: Look on that fire, salvation walks within.
Heart: What theme had Homer but original sin? —William Butler Yeats

And three begot the ten thousand things.
—Lao Tzu

I am another vine
in the great democracy of vines
part of the complexity that defies explanation
part of the tree you put your back to
alert, but never suspecting.
I am the cold coil around the warm trunk,
I expand
as your lungs, poor rabbits, twitch and swell.
I am a long story with lovely yellows
and dapples and shades
a beginning, middle, and end that you can get lost in
a sunny patch followed by a shadow
a green dapple and twist, the turn, the unexpected
When you come to the denouement
and the tail narrows to nothing
you wish to go back to the beginning and start over
where the red lie flickers in the leaves
beneath eyes like mica moons.

It is the old story, the beginning of everything
but really a long divigation and excursus
in which the woman naked and trembling
complains to the man, weeping over and over,
and his voice rises in sharp jabs
while all their unborn children listen.
It is something that interrupts the afternoon, the first day
and history begins and wanders off for millennia,
missing the whole point.

It is these subtle shades on my scales
this maze of intricate lines
that lead back upon themselves in endless recursions
that fascinate you, that lead you endlessly
from my tail into my mouth.
In the moving light of the jungle I am a simple
body-stocking of shadows and weave
under a fritillary of bird cries to a sensuous music
a harmony to all your doings
promising you the ultimate knowledge in my belly
down the dark tube of years:
Light and shadow, light and shadow, the days and nights pass
with increasing speed like stations and their intervals
and you sway holding the strap
the car-lights flickering
wondering whatever was your original destination.

When fiction held out its red lie among the roses you followed it down my dark throat. It seemed utterly reasonable. Then you ...

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