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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Snake Pit, Joan Colby

Long ago, ladies with parasols,
Gentlemen in spats lured to a
Sunday’s visitation. The way
Crowds flocked to a madhouse
To enjoy the spackled laughs
Of inmates; a woman frozen
Stiff as Lot’s wife.
Edges crumble as the old stones
Flake mortar like bad dreams.
On tiptoe, we peer down the mossy
Shaft imagining how sinuous shapes
Coiled and uncoiled, tongues forking
To spit curses. Scaled bodies
Shiny to the eye, dry to the touch,
Not that we’d dare those rattles
Like a madwoman’s cackle,
Not that we’d do much more than
Gaze aroused in shameful prurience.
Gruesome intestines displaced
From the bellies of demons
Who insinuated that the gate
To good or evil was a knowledge
Of diamond patterns, how a whorled
Posture emboldens the strike.
Now bloodroot flourishes
With feverfew and rattlesnake master
At the pit’s lip empty as the old asylum
Downriver where a memoir echoed
Custom: desperate for cure
The lunatics lowered
Into depths thick with vipers
To split an imperfect conscience
The way lightning forks a hollow tree
Or a hissed suggestion opens up the world.

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