Holding a Dead Rattlesnake by flickr Creative Commons User JeffreyW

I remember the day at summer camp
when we caught the rattlesnake.
Beheaded it. Skinned it. Tossed the body.

Stretched the hide. Nailed to wood.
Poured salt on the skin
and placed it in the sun to dry.

I imagine the glistening bundles of muscle
shimmering in the sunlight
dappled with a pattern of leaves and the occasional cloud.
Now useless. They lie on a bed of forest decay.
Fluids which once carried oxygen and nutrients
ooze onto the litter of nature;
Debris of a less obvious struggle.

I can’t remember the snake’s struggle to survive.
Don’t recall a baring of fangs for defense.
Or what we did with the head.
But I do remember the beauty of the stretched skin
with its patterns and scales and my wonder at the ease with which we
denuded the snake of it and claimed it as our own.

Photo credit: flickr user jeffreyw

6 thoughts on “Skinned

  1. I love stories and poetry about memories. I’ve read this one several times and each time I’ve found it stunning. The short sharp matter-of-factness of the open lines contrast brilliantly with the longer and more contemplative lines of the last verse. I just know this one’s going to be stuck in my head for a long time.

  2. It warms my poetic heart when what I hope to produce actually works! This poem was penned back in 1991 and I’ve tightened it up a good bit to get the power blows in the opening followed by the lyrical feeling at the end. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Andy!

  3. This made me smile… Brought back some Arizona memories… I worked as a park ranger, and would have to “escort” rattlers from camping areas in the springtime, when they would stretch themselves on the blacktop for heat. I would put a noose behind their heads, and walk them like they were pets, to the waiting truck, where I would deposit them for later release. Have skinned and eaten them, but enjoyed the catch and release much more. Thanks for rekindling such fond memories of my time there.

    • Steve, What a great story! Walking a snake!

      I have a great fondness for snakes of all types. When just a wee girl of about 3, I sat atop a sand dune on a South Carolina barrier island and proclaimed to my father down below, “Daddy, Look at the big worm!” Apparently a diamond back rattler was sitting beside me, rather peacefully. My father called, “Sit still!.” And I did. And he did kill the beautiful, big worm. I was rather saddened by that. My brother and I had several snakes as pets and to this day, they fascinate me.

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