The child sleeps on a bed of snakes:
spotted, striped, neon pink, a dense vivarium
of soft things with their flickering, felted tongues.
Some wag with a spliff between his yellowed teeth
wanders into the darkened room, his inscrutable jokes
lost on the prepubescent child, still acrid to the nose,
and even the leathery skins prickle and grow hot.
They surround those skinny limbs, looped head to tail,
making the sign for infinity, encircling fetid night;
the snakes raise their flattened skulls and begin to stir.
Below deck, shot glasses clink, and a woman’s screech
is a seagull preying on strange worms and tortuous forms
emerging dark as some mythology or cast back by the sea.
The child, uneasy, shucks off the flowered quilt, limp sail
on becalmed night ship. Thirsty, she drinks from rusted taps,
and you would think her glad to lie above the sea, the shore
where city children come by rail to grow so nicely brown.
But that strange wind mounts like fire from the beach,
scorches screens, tickling the tongues of snakes.
It smells, it reeks, this evening breeze, of nothing else but skin.
From the peeling deck comes the crunch of heels on sand,
sprayed by that concupiscent breeze, blinding dilate eyes.
The child toes boards down the papered hall, pricking ears.
See green vines wriggle into myriad forms, like nothing
so much as a nest of snakes. Rows of yellow teeth shine.
On a table, there is beach plum in its crackled vase,
smelling sweet enough as offering for human or for snake.
Mornings, the mothers spread warm lotion on their legs,
toss spent cigarettes onto sand. Children freckle and burn.
There are the sandwiches, egg and cheese, and buckets
of damp grit and the view of fathers treading out to sea
so that only pinheads bobble in the swell of cresting waves.
The children bury their willing victims deep in the sand,
sunny schadenfreude on full display, the mothers smiling,
beach umbrellas fully spread against the heat of the day,
full rigged ships sailing so tantalizingly close to the eye.
Folded on her mother’s crooked knee, the child finds the arc
in the history of sand, tracing faint undulations of the snakes.