You want to know how to tell the difference between the snake that is harmless and

the snake that will kill you, and the answer is you can’t. Red and black safe for Jack,

red and yellow et cetera, but you won’t remember this when it’s zigzagging through

the grass for you like lightning, so all you can say is oh, I guess this is happening then.

And you’d think I’d just avoid the woods, but I never do, the truth is this isn’t about

snakes at all, but you don’t even know, do you? That I’ve met you before, in other

bodies with different names, all just as kind and disappointing, I should have known better but it’s just that this one kept smiling at me, this one,

you. Coral, or king. Kept touching my arm somewhere that wasn’t the wrist, my back

somewhere that isn’t the small; vague parts of me that don’t have names, so you could

mean nothing. Go ahead, guard your king while I paint my mouth coral, go call a

poem

beautiful and laugh at everything else; go catch your train into another life, stop

on the staircase and look back at me. Ask what’s up, but don’t ask what’s wrong,

there’s

an answer to that you don’t want to hear, now what I want to hear is it’s his loss and I

hope he chokes on it, his loss, yours. But really it’s all mine, isn’t it? The heart wants what it et ceteras, the heart draws the venom towards itself, the heart spares the rod

and lets the snake grow fat, but I’ve had my whole life to get good at getting over it.

This whole life. So if you’ve perfected saying thanks but no thanks, and I’ve perfected

feeling nothing after everything, let’s do that without ever speaking; if we can’t be perfect together we can at least be perfect at the same time. So hey guess what,

guess what, guess what, it’s safe for Jack again, this is all already

ancient history, my man—but if this is all I’m ever going to get,

then by god I’m going to keep on getting it, I’ll take it

wherever I can find it, in the shared kitchens of

the houses I move into, in the crowds across the street just before

the light goes green, each time like it’s the only

time that matters—on the bridge spanning the cold width

of the river, in the gutter with the stray wrappers,

stray footprints in the mud, stray birds in the grass, where I pick it up

and dust it off and unhinge my jaw and swallow it, whole.