Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

The Baby Rattler Coiled Between the Bookcases

by Debbie Hall

Why didn’t you strike
when you had the chance, little one?
You could have stabbed the cat hunched over you
with your tiny fangs, sent a toxic bolus of fear
into her heart and us running
to save her. Is it because she was my mother’s cat,
my mother who died just yesterday? No,
there I go humanizing you,
believing you capable of sentiment
and selflessness. And yet, when my lover reached out
to run her finger over your slick young skin,
thinking you only a gopher snake,
you just nipped a warning—more like a kiss,
really, but enough to alert her
to the tiny button on your tail, the sharp wedge
of your head. Another reprieve. Who wouldn’t call that a gift?
We tried to respond in kind,
secured you in a box with air holes,
called the wildlife rescue team. We imagined
they’d take you somewhere with large warm boulders,
plenty of lizards and small mice to sustain you,
shelter from circling hawks.
The wildlife rescuer said they had to kill you,
because snakes are territorial—
you’d only return to our neighborhood.
Oh, why didn’t you strike when you had the chance?
This story could have ended differently.


—Selected for Honorable Mention in the competition for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2016, and first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2016-17 (Garden Oak Press, February 2017); appears here with permissions from both poet and publisher.


SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Debbie Hall

is a psychologist and writer whose poetry has appeared in San Diego Poetry Annual 2015-2016; City Works Literary Journal 2009; San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology (volumes 5 and 8); Serving House Journal, Swamp Lily Review, and Tuck Magazine. Her essays have appeared on NPR (“This I Believe” series), in USD Magazine, The San Diego Psychologist, and the San Diego Union Tribune. She is currently enrolled in Pacific University’s MFA program in writing.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury