Wakoski, Diane. Emerald Ice: Selected Poems, 1962-1987. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1988: 328-330.
1I never understood the girls
2who had the sweaters
3and the latest hairdos copied out of magazines
4and who were not afraid of snakes.
5They were the thin-hipped ones who looked good
6in straight skirts, like exclamation points
7behind phrases like "Wow," and "Gee Whiz."
8I envied their lemon-scented hands
9raised to answer asmost as many questions
10as I, the ugly duckling class brain, did,
11with my fat ankles,
12and ass as soft as a sofa pillow.
13Valerie Twadell who was Miss La Habra
14at our August Corn Festival
15chased me with worms.
16Cathy, with her Zelda-ish bob,
17and slimness that even her sorority girl students envy
18tells of a snake they ritually put in the 8th grade teacher's desk;
19and now you, Peggy, as I heard someone nice
20call you, slender and chic as Jane Fonda,
21tell of your own simple connection with snakes,
22wearing them as electric tight bracelets,
23wound on a willow wrist,
24the delight you took in scaring others,
25even men, or women like me,
26who would have died had we found even a harmless little black
28curled in the grass.
29I have never been one of the girls:
30smart without being labelled with derogatory titles like
33graceful without watching calories,
34followed by men who adored me even when I turned them away,
37with ankles like colts,
38and at complete ease with snakes.
39I have never been
40one of the girls.
41At 47, I still envy your cool acceptance
42of all these gifts.
43Some part of me
45what all women have,
46or are supposed to have, an ease
47with the fatly coiled Python whose skin
48is like milky underwear,
49the thread-like green mamba who slips past
50your fingers like mountain water,
51the cobra who sits on the family radio
52in Sri Lanka,
53the cottonmouth who swims next to you all night
54in muddy fertile loving water,
55or the magic necklace Denise imagines around her throat.
56Men see me as the Medusa,
57with vipers hissing around my hair.
58How ironic/ I have always been so afraid
59of snakes that when I was six
60I couldn't turn to the S N A K E page
61in my Golden Encyclopedia.
62I have never been one of the girls,
63comfortable wearing a blacksnake as a belt.
64Had I been Lawrence,
65near his well in Sicily,
66I would have turned and run. He knew
68the Lords of Life,
69but I know you pretty girl women,
70who handle them like hula hoops,
71or jump ropes,
72or pet kittens,
73are the real Gods, and your ease with snakes
75In your presence I am neither man
76nor woman. I am simply the one
77afraid of snakes; who knows
78that in this life
79it is the one thing
Publication Start Year
RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh