Nickole Brown

The Smell of Snake

Few memories, those years
besides the smell of dead
kittens under the car and the cucumber
of copperheads crisping
the creek where I waded
with a net from our above-ground pool
to scoop up black tadpoles and crawdads,
the adrenaline flash of minnows silvering
an orange bucket. Few memories
of you, nothing to say about
you learning to roll over or sit up
or crawl, and by the time you toddled
down the hall to reach my door
it was locked, shut with a finger-
smashing slam and a sign barred
with exclamation points that read
Private Get Out. I was hoarding
a stash of precious, breakable things,
things you weren’t allowed to touch—a boy’s
speed skate laces and his sister’s stolen
champagne flute of Mardi Gras beads,
a wind-up ceramic ballerina balancing
on one chipped toe, raspberry-flavored
lip gloss and soft plastic bracelets worn to look
like a slut. In two summers,
I had gone from the creek to the all-night
seven-to-seven skate, I had gone
from the freckled giggle pop kiss to the tongue
down the throat, I had learned what acid-
washed jeans can do for a girl, especially
when she learns to skate
backwards, the smooth-footed eight curve
side-to-side sway of her hips.
The kids I knew, like me, all came
straight from the mud, and with legs still
mosquito-pocked and the smell of snake
in our hair, we struck our father’s
lighter in one hand and held out
our mother’s aerosol in the other,
sprayed fuck-you balls
of fire into the air. We wrote ozzy rulz
across our eight punch
knuckles, carved our desires
into wooden desks; we passed
notes and played hooky and told stories
of schoolyard rape done
with broken bottles and broom
sticks. We were
afraid, and like a pack of hungry
dogs, we marked
each other—safety pins and blood,
scratched things like best friends
then vomited our bile
emptiness into the mud.

Nickole Brown
“The Smell of Snake” is from Sister (Red Hen Press, 2007).