Feed the Snake

by Michael Creighton
The Waters
Honorable Mention, March 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes


–on the road to Gangotri

The sky is clear when a smiling girl
offers to lead us up the trail that connects

the road by the river to her village in the hills.
After an hour, she tells us to sit and rest.

“This pond and that tree are brothers,”
she says, “and we leave milk on these banks

to feed the snake that lives here.”
My seven year old son shakes his head

and asks: “But is the snake real?
Have you ever seen him?”

She shrugs:
“But why would we want to see him?”

Behind us, a dozen crows rise
to scold a passing hawk.

In the valley below, yesterday’s rain
flows toward the Bay of Bengal.


Sometimes poems find us, and the good poets know when to grab onto them. This is a moment of profound wisdom—the kind of wisdom we find in proverbs on in the mouths of those who have seen the world in its most stark realities and who have found a way to live in that world. The poem revolves around a simple punch line—“But why would we want to see him?”. The curiosity and skepticism of the child is addressed by the pragmatism of the girl. Here rituals are more important than their results. The symbolic suggestion of the scolding crows is a tad convenient, but the simple truth of the idea of the constantly flowing river is elegantly caught in the final lines. One image would work. A small matter, though. --Kwame Dawes

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