The Rattlesnake

by Clela Reed

You can smell them, you know;
my elderly gardener friend,
speaking as an odd connoisseur,
pronounced the female’s scent
“musky but with overtones of
cucumber and barley.”

She was right. I’ve smelled them, too.
Early in the heavy dew,
I’ve sensed their recent presence
lingering on my garden paths like
remnants of stale perfume long trapped perhaps
in leather or like the must of spent desire,
tell-tale fragrance left on grass and twig
as muscles silent-slid the scales toward
the sleeping mouse, the nest of eggs,
meals of need and dark-quick stealth
one can’t begrudge a legless life.

So when the headlights of our visitors’ car caught
her in her evening hunt—across our drive,
toward the calling woods—her shock at light
and engine roar was not enough to turn her
from her task and from the crushing tread.

We had to finish what the tires began, of course.
A rattlesnake is not a thing to nurse.
My husband took his father’s shotgun
from the highest closet shelf and—loathing
the executioner’s role—aimed the barrel
at the heart-shaped head and fired.

For several mornings after, I was sure I smelled the musk,
distinct but fading, winding through the garden air
like breath of soil, like pleasant smoke,
like incense.