Bitten

By Richard Widerkehr

at Akumal, Mexico

“There are two ways to die in the desert,”
says a barmaid with almond eyes.
“The first is to let a coral snake wrap itself
around a knot in your spine.”

It seems I’ve been bitten.
I try to tie off the bite
with Linda’s green scarf, but can’t reach
the small of my back.

The snake says, “Each to his own.”
In heaven, it’s twilight, and the new arrivals
amble up the stone path to a glimmering buffet.
“Don’t go back,” says a man who tilts his glasses

up on his head. Wind rattles
in the palm leaves, an incarnation
of some other song.
“Thanks for coming,” says my mother.

A thin man offers a mint from a tin box
marked Last Supper Dinner Mints.
“I’m Jewish,” I say. The slim-hipped barmaid
offers me a blue quilt. She reminds me

of the girl who played I’ll-show-you-mine-
if-you’ll-show-me-yours, when we were kids.
Even though I’m in heaven, I remember
the snake and the man who sic’ed the snake

on me, after I tried to save him from drowning.
How was he drowning in a desert?
Was that how I died? Must I forgive him?
Just this morning, I climbed the stairs,

walked through a valley with no stones,
but there are stones in my mouth
when I sing the Shema, “Hear, O Israel…”
There’s a sea of aqua and lime-green.

Girls in string bikinis lip-synch Broadway songs.
Frigate birds with narrow, V-shaped wings
soar in the upper echelons,
surely more blessed.

The light on the sea
has turned to diamonds struck
into a million pieces,
sun like a burning wind.

I’m in a gray terminal, a train station,
near a sign that says Retorno.
Another sign on the second floor
says, Salle de Espero.

“Is that the Room of Hope?” I ask.
“No,” says a black-haired woman,
who sounds familiar. “It’s the waiting room.
Most people don’t want to go back.”

snake

Richard Widerkehr received his M.A. from Columbia University. He has two book-length collections of poems: The Way Home (Plain View Press) and Her Story of Fire (Egress Studio Press), and two chapbooks. Tarragon Books published his novel, Sedimental Journey, about a geologist in love with a fictional character. Recent work has appeared in Rattle, Floating Bridge Review, Cirque, Penumbra, Clover, and Salt River Review.

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