Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Snake’ by Sherman Alexie

Driving home, I ran over a bull snake
and tore it into three pieces.

I didn’t mean to kill the thing.
I’d thought it was the thin shadow

of a telephone pole stretched across the road.
I realized it was a snake

only after I’d run it over
Thump, thump—

that’s the percussion
of car tires and snakes.

After I ran it over, I stopped,
left the car idling,

and walked back
to the three pieces of snake.

In death-shock, the head and tail
thrashed separately

against the pavement
that had been its warm rock.

The middle piece, strange
and disconnected, did not move.

I said a prayer
to the Snake God,

and wondered if such a god exists.
That’s theology.

If the Snake God does exist,
then it is likely the same

as every other god—
unreachable.

I didn’t want the snake’s body to be insulted
by other cars and their drivers,

so I dragged the tail off the road to the west
and the head off the road to the east.

I could not touch the middle piece,
because it was flattened and gory.

Satisfied that I’d shown the snake
enough respect, I drove away.

But two miles up the road, I turned
around, and traveled back.

I don’t know if there is a Snake Heaven,
but I didn’t want the snake to suffer because of my doubts.

If the snake’s three pieces arrived separately in Heaven,
would any of them be able to find the others?

I dragged the tail and middle
across the road and laid them beside the head,

because snake + snake + snake = snake,
because any trinity can be holy.

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3 Responses to Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Snake’ by Sherman Alexie

  1. Joan Swift says:

    Sherman —
    You won’t believe how impressed I am by this poem. Am I ready for the rest?

  2. John Welsh says:

    Sherman Alexie is a god of great writing. If there is a God of Great Writing, that is. There must be. He graced us with Sherman Alexie. Such a brilliant, wonderful writer. He probably would not want me to bow down to him. But I would do so, because he is just that damn good.

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