The man carrying his AK-47 Fire Serpent

into Walmart to get a Coke

innocently crosses into my frontier

of childhood,

where houses were sparse and streets were sand.

Pine woods cut to feed the paper mill

returned as sulfurous emissions

staining the air at dawn.

Among the stumps, palmetto,

scrub oak spread like matted hair.


Creeping Eruption made a livid snake,

writhing with subcutaneous larvae

up my foot and leg,

for which the treatment was

chemical freezing of the skin.

To show me he knew how it felt,

the doctor sprayed his free hand, grimaced, smiled,

then locked my foot in a lake of ice

like the one at the bottom of Hell

that holds a ravening Satan numbly fast.


Why did you hit your little friend?

Because he was weak,

because the square-headed older boy

I ran with despised him.

The silver-pointed belt tip bit his skin.

I wanted to hit him again

but someone took my belt away.

There was never room

in our barefoot children’s bodies

or in the houses of that broken landscape

for the reckoning we ached for.


The skin snake burned

until the larvae stilled and dried.

The hookworm-hollowed dogs continued

their patrols, but perhaps this was the beginning

of imagination.

Or the serpent may just have burrowed in:

the sore of entry heals without a scar.

The T-shirt on the man with the AK-47

says, Don’t Tread on Me.