8.10.2009

The Third by Mary Karr

I didn't forget. I could only find half of this yesterday. So an extra day to celebrate five years. One of my all-time favorite poems:

Viper Rum
--by Mary Karr

All day we had run-ins with jungle snakes.
Above my canoe, a tiny vine serpent
like a single strand of luminous green linguini

moved in a quick, muscular S from black orchid
to unripe mango to strangler fig.
Back at the lodge, a coral snake on the stucco floor

sent an old Girl Scout rhyme slantwise through my head:
“Red by yellow, kill a fellow.
Red by black, friend of Jack.”

The waiter caught it in a Hellman’s mustard jar
and we all stood around the bar
while it swayed hesitant behind the glass.

Once it curled back in on itself
the small knot of fear in my chest unloosed.
Over stew, the archaeologist

told how his friend surprised
in a ceremonial Mayan pot
the fer de lance or Tommygoff,

which never doesn’t bit. “She made
a double tourniquet right off
and only lost the limb,” he said.

Far off, a howler monkey pack started
the whiskey-throated roars
that maybe kept a jaguar back.

That’s when the proprietress brought out the viper rum,
a gallon jug wide-mouthed enough
to fit inside the wrist-thick python

that circled there, flat-faced.
Shot glasses went round. The lid unscrewed
let out some whiff of Caribbean herb

that promised untold mystery unfolding in your head.
The python’s lidless eyes were white, mouth
O-shaped, perfect for a cocktail straw, I thought.

Then naturally, I cast back to those years
I drank, alone nights at the kitchen sink,
bathrobed, my head hatching snakes,

while my baby slept in his upstairs cage
and my marriage choked to death.
I should have wound up in a fetal coil

eyes scalded of sight, staring out
at the warped and vacant world.
What plucked me from that fate

can’t yet be named, but I do reverence to it
every day. So my untouched shot glass still
flipped upside down, I said goodnight. Outside,

the moon was a smoky disk, the path to my hut
loaded with white magnolia petals,
so every step sent out a fragrant mist

that wound up filling my circular
thatched hut—the flowers’ flesh
got mashed in my boot soles.

My hammock cradled me in its knotted web.
All around a thousand radiant wings
Were shimmering. The jungle hummed.

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