April Tierney is the author of two full length collections of poetry, Singing to the Bones (2018) and Origin Stories (2020), and is the cofounder of Fire Feeders, a collaborative press and women’s writing collective along the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Her work has been featured in Wild Fibers and Orion Magazine, among other publications. April lives on a deer and ponderosa pine studded hillside in Lyons with her beautiful family.
Image by Lothar Dieterich from Pixabay
Twice now I have watched giant snakes
feasting upon other families’ babies.
The first time was in the woods,
winding down a rough trail with a friend––
we heard the birds screeching well before
we spotted their devastation; dozens
of little chickadees bouncing around
in the trees, crying out in maddening screams
truly as if their lives and their offspring’s
depended upon it. Then we saw
the wide body of a snake
wrapped halfway up and around
the trunk of an enormous tree
which had a hollow right at its center––
as if the tree’s mouth had been caught
mid-scream too. The snake’s head
was deep in that hollow, and as the clan
of birds bounced from limb to limb in a torrent
of commotion, my friend and I stood with jaws
dropped to the forest floor watching
the snake slowly ingesting then digesting
golfball size clumps like a conveyer belt
down her smooth, elongated body.
The baby birds seemed to remain intact
as they traveled through that dark tunnel
into the opened arms of their death.
Such a chilling, unforgettable sight.
A woman and man stumbled up the trail
just then. The woman let out a yelp,
“This is awful! We must stop it!
Quick,” she said to the man beside her,
“throw a stick at the snake!” But he
just stood there, staring; surely stilled
by the rare grandeur of it all.
I wondered if anyone had ever yelled
at her mid-lunch, “No! Stop! Don’t
you dare take in another bite!”
Of course not. What respectable person
would try to stop life from exquisitely
living? Isn’t death the only way
any of us go on existing?
The second encounter was halfway
below the rim of the Grand Canyon.
I was resting in the shade with a few
friends and my shoes kicked off
when a rattlesnake casually
slid past the place we were sitting––
directly over my hiking boots and into
the dense grass. My friend jumped up
onto the picnic table and I scooted back
as we watched a ground squirrel barrel up to
the rattler, then toss sticks in his direction.
Meanwhile, another squirrel started yelling
at the first one from high up in a tree,
pleading with his love to move back.
But she would not. She kept screeching
and tossing up Earth; the fiercely
protective mama that she was,
desperately trying to defend her nest.
The snake seemed unfazed by this, slowly
coiling himself up and around her babes;
his head tucked into the center of his lap,
quietly feasting on those little, furry lives.
This time, I could not see the tunnel body
slowly digesting in his well-contained coil,
but surely felt sorrow and astonishment
working its way through my own simple flesh.
The squirrel in the tree kept beseeching
his sweetheart on the ground to back down
while she carried on with the agony of it all.
We sat there for what seemed like hours
until finally the snake slithered off
leaving no trace of the nest in his wake.
The squirrels eventually stopped screaming
and the silence that echoed off the walls
of the canyon will live on in me forever.