By Eric Nelson
We’re sitting at the table the way people do
When a family member dies and a stream of well-wishers
Arrive with sympathy and food.
Everyone is concerned for the widow, 70, tough, wiry,
Who now seems weak and befuddled, staring at people
She’s known for years without answering,
Rising and walking out the back door, staring at the woods
At the far end of their land.
Returning to the table without a word.
We’re all thinking how often one spouse dies
Soon after the other, dies of nothing
But lack. Because we are surrounded by guns, her husband’s
Sizeable collection—pistols in glass cases, rifles
In racks and corners—talk turns to their value, the merits
Of revolvers versus semi autos, plinking, protection.
Now, for the first time, the widow speaks, remembering
That she went to the coop this morning and found curled
In a nesting box a snake, unhinged mouth filled
With a whole egg, disappearing a swallow at a time.
She walked back to the house, pulled her .410
Off the rack, returned to the coop and blew its head off.
A hog-nose, she says. A good snake. But I had to.
She shrugs her shoulders. I had to. Glancing
At each other, we nod in agreement, relieved.
Eric Nelson has published five poetry collections, including The Twins, (2009), winner of the Split Oak Press Chapbook Award; Terrestrials (2004, Texas Review Press), winner of the X.J. Kennedy Poetry Award; and The Interpretation of Waking Life (1991, U. of Arkansas Press), winner of the Arkansas Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, Southern Poetry Review, The Oxford American, The Sun, and many other journals and anthologies. He teaches in the Writing and Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern University.