by Joel Ferdon

The mason jar of rattlesnake heads
refracted the light in the yellow brine
while the speech teacher grabbed
my head from behind and etched
syllables into my jaw with his thumb
and orange fingernails. Instead of words,
I drew. The few lines I managed slithered
across the page and got him spouting off,
toting his kills. He said while clearing ivy
he found those three diamondbacks curled
in a black oak stump. He took the first two
with a quick flick of blade, but jerked the third
up behind the eyes, jaws wide,
and listened close to its mouth move
in muscled force to the shake of tail—
each rattle another syllable.
He cracked its body like wet rope
and took his prizes in an uncovered hand:
the heads, the rattles that shook
like rain sticks. When the story ended,
and he had my head in his hands, he said
Speak for me, boy. Let me hear
something nice from you.

JOEL FERDON is pursuing an MFA in poetry at McNeese State University. Born and raised in Moreno Valley, California, he now calls Charlotte, NC, his home. His poems have appeared in Cold Mountain Review and elsewhere. He has been a contributor at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.