Summoning The River Snake

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Summoning the river snake: a death journey in five parts
 
… in which the poet Dorothy Porter summons her muse and death messenger, a snake, and makes a final journey.

The poet narrates the journey; the snake (in italicised text) responds.


 

I.

Serpent, show yourself.
I wait for the thin sound of your scale
against the leaf litter: it is
             the dry fall of papers
             from a desk.
 
I will
slash a path for us — through
dead brambles, lead you
             down
             towards the water’s yellow edge, where
 
motor oil collects
in rainbow leaks.
 
This moon is a dollar
to pay for our passage.
 
Snake,
whisper your permission:
             I must curl
             these arms around your neck,
             your pulse against my wrist:

we are
a woman riding a beast
 
in a dirty, moonlit creek,
to the river mouth
             where the dark channel
             opens —
where the sea begins.

 

Your code

In myth
it is always a bird —
 
some garnet-eyed death agent,
a quivering entrail
clutched in its dirty beak,
             muttering
             a doomsday rant —
 
who hops and stares
with freakish, ominous
intent.
 
But you, poet, choose this
travelling mate:
 
a slider, who drifted, took
to the banks
where the Black Land and the Red Land split;
             listened
             here and there,
slept while the low-country flooded,
waiting.
 
Friend, I yearned for you,
— memorised
your code:
 
A snake is an opportunity
A kiss is an anemone opening
A lover is a mystery
A cancer is a minotaur in the labyrinth of bones.

 


 

II.

In my hands your body is
jewelled rope:
a cordon, a partition — you are
thin as an edge. Tonight,
 
we slip between
the reeds, slice silent murk
beside the bank — guided
 
by the barking frogs
downstream.
 
See? The river gums
have pocketed the moon;
it is dark. Yet
I know you,
snake. You are
 
the simple line
that draws itself at the end of life;
the tube that begins here and ends here,
 
a problem
unknotted: head and cloaca,
the ontos and teleos of it all —
simplified. Tonight
             you are the line;
             I am crossing over.

 

Gemstones

Like me,
you spent long days in the dark,
dreaming of amusements
             that shine and
             snare the eye.
 
Our kind have perfected lairs:
you waited out
the southerly, sniffed the air
for the lazy ozone taint
 
that hints
at summer —
 
got your timing wrong
a hundred times; emerged
to fog and chill, accidently
            slipped a skin or
            left a tooth.
 
Where diamond nails have torn
             for love
you were — you are — scored. But
I am smooth to touch; each scale
stitched tight as
a lover’s pact,
             no gape
             or fingernail chink.
 
To hear me, drift:
swallow a dragon-stone  — and listen,
             your blue eyelid
             against my cheek.

 


 

III.

Snake, are you awake?
 
This flow makes us forget:
we are not the creatures we
once were;
             nor yet the stuff
             we will become.
 
You were kind, before — drew from me
my proudest hours. Now,
 
in darkness, we
ease ourselves into
lesser shapes; seep and leach
and fill the river
with our taint.
 
Your death drug
makes me woozy — the brimstone stink
of old bodies rises
             from the river in
             sulfurous belches;
 
I should like to go properly, with
the scent of chapel incense burning
in a temple grate
 
or redolent figs ripening
on a plate
in the sun.

Minotaur

The minotaur,
             there in the heart of your heart’s maze
 
is death:
his beast reek rises
from bristle and flank,
sweat trickles
             into the woollen rug.
 
But you prepared for this:
             rolled a skein
             of words, passed
through antique towns,
saw the stone walls of a city crumble
 
while the minotaur waited out the years
dozing at his post
like a drunken duty judge
             for this — to prove
 
that mysteries, when probed
collapse
 
into units
of simple, mundane lore.

 


 

IV.

Hear this:
it wasn’t as you describe.
 
I took this life
to town — showed it off,
gadded it about,
 
swung it,
gave it hot kisses;
holidayed it
 
then rolled it lovingly
in a tomb-raider’s embalming cloth and
             tucked it
             between two sheets
 
then shot my pistol in the air.

 

Comet

You snuck, pen between your teeth
            shape-shifter
            half-chimera,
into guises — a web-handed
amphibian, a comet’s tail:
            Let me end in fire
            on a night of low smog
            bright on the horizon.
 
Desire strapped rockets to your feet
and you went sprawling
akimbo, staring —
 
rapt; saw
that longings form galaxies; that
            all one’s deaths are written
            and collude.
 
Apprenticed, you did magic —
            pressed your hands
            to your lover’s body, then
            raised them aloft:
strange celestial fire
trailed your fingers, filled
the room
with smoke.

 


 

V.

Our old moon, our coin
is spent; so snake,
adieu — you are thin in my grip:
            slight as
            discarded skin.
 
This river grows cold. Salt
on the tongue
announces the sea. Before us
everything lies
open
in a single channel: time, matter, space.
 
If Jupiter’s Europa
is lifeless then
we should make for Io —
 
zoom out there,
set the place alight —
feast on the
            ice dreams
            of microlife, who
chemosynthesise to live.
 
Better yet, let’s fizz:
be infinite, carbon, dissembled.
            Start a fire;
            be a breath.

 

Nightjar

For you (and you only)
a backward glance:
 
on the sea’s surface
in phosphorescent trails,
I see the traces
of your words.
 
And at the shore,
a flying nightjar watches —
 
veers off-course,
high on your heat and light,
dreaming, perhaps:
            of a ride
            on a comet’s tail.

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