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 As cats bring their smiling
mouse-kills and hypnotised birds, 
slinking home under the light 
of a summer's morning
to offer the gift of a corpse,

you carry home the snake you thought 
was sunning itself on a rock
at the river's edge: 
sun-fretted, gracile,
it shimmies and sways in your hands 
like a muscle of light,
and you gather it up like a braid 
for my admiration.
I can't shake the old wife's tale that snakes never die, they hang in a seamless dream of frogskin and water, preserving a ribbon of heat in a bone or a vein, a cold-blooded creature's promise of resurrection, and I'm amazed to see you shuffle off the woman I've know for years, tracing the lithe, hard body, the hinge of the jaw, the tension where sex might be, that I always assume is neuter, when I walk our muffled house at nightfall, throwing switches, locking doors.

Poem by John Burnside
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