- Snake Cane
Sometimes Virginia Creeper,a tendril of honeysuckle or wildgrape, will wind around the limbof a young hickory and, as both grow,squeeze its spiral into the wick.Old women who tap the groundbefore they walk, ready to rap dangeron its head, tobacco farmers well-versedin the habits of serpents, carry such twisted sticks.Search for them in our tick-breeding woods—mumbo-jumbo of undergrowth, full-throatedgreen, saplings bent, knitted together with briars,mayapples pushing past skunk cabbagesand then the dying that comes with the first frost,oak leaves baked brown and sycamore platterscurling inward on the ground, poison ivydried up to one hairy vine thick as a man's wrist.Step down into the furrows of an old road bed,deer stand draped in black quiet as wildness itself,easy to miss among the doe-legged trees.Daddy sang, I'm the man who rode the mulearound the world, voice ragged as a forgottentrotline. I was born ten thousand years ago.Bright leaf tobacco cured in the smoke.I tended the low fires. Black night rustledup close to me and sometimes I caught a glimpseof a thing. The cedars breathed by the fence row.You have to find the wood first, branch of desire [End Page 76] wound round with grapevine, nearly strangledand then: growing on anyway.I'll paint it like a shining rattlesnake,body spinning up the stick.Your hand will rest on its head,devil eyes subdued, looking up at you,fangs following the way the handle bends,benign in their whiteness, polished by handsweatand the oily traces of a hundred dusty hunts—mountain feists yapping along with the rhythmof the staff, rabbit cry dark as dried bloodin the autumn wind. Silent rattles cover the endthat hits the dirt, seeking strikesin high summer's high grass,feeling a human way through deep leaves,hollow-wise, rocks holding heat,or shaking the snake-rich shadows of blackberry canesbefore the hand reaches in for the fruit. [End Page 77]
A descendant of mountain people who moved to work in the mills that once flourished in the Virginia Piedmont, Annie Woodford now lives and teaches community college English in Roanoke, Virginia. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Chattahoochee Review, Bluestem, Tar River Poetry, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Appalachian Journal, and Prairie Schooner, among others.