By Mark Cox

In this faded family photo—
Horton, Kansas, ’36—
they are just two farmhands in overalls,
kept, by a bowed velvet cordon,
from some gala event. Except it’s a rattlesnake
strung between them,
five, perhaps six feet in length
and thick as my young father’s outstretched arms.
One might think his pride, that is,
anticipation of us,
would dictate looking at the camera,
but he seems to be eyeing
the slick, intricate patterns of risk
now relaxed in his hand.
Then again, given his uneasy, strained half-smile,
he could be checking my grandfather’s grip,
the snake so freshly dead,
making sure any reflex is under control—
suspecting the undulant weight of it,
that he could never really let go.

Mark Cox teaches in the Department of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington and in the Vermont College MFA Program. Recent work has appeared in Brevity, 32 Poems, and The Colorado Review. He has authored six volumes of poetry, most recently Readiness: Prose Poems (2018) and Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984-2015.

Originally appeared in NOR 14.

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