Crotalus atrox

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake

Kristen Nelson



After the Crotalus atrox



I have been listening for a rattle since I arrived in the desert

on every hike with shuffling feet


because that is what the snake is

(the sound sums it up)




isn’t it?



Snakes: prized for their shed by hoodoo workers and lovers

           are all practitioners from time to darker time


Snake shed: the black and white patterns in spiritual baths

           little dried bits bloat and float above rose petals and Dragon’s Blood

           Dragon’s Blood is a simple red resin and not so scary after


Snake oil: from Cambodia, it really does have venom


Venom: a lip gloss made from peppermint oil for plumping and coating

            lips turned snake-charmer irresistible



This poem should be called “practical uses for snake”

but something should not be summed up by how it is used


someone should not be summed up by someone else

someone should not use




I have been looking for diamonds on cold skin for eight years

I have been listening for a rattle for eight years

I have been hiking for eight years

I have found the memory of a thing, but never the thing itself


I have watched my cat (who is from New York, who is from Tampa, who is from

a box in front of a Walmart in a small town in Florida)

tear the beaks off of cactus wrens, and I have killed many cockroaches,

but I haven’t heard the rapid fire chica chick chicka chick



My bath water is getting cold



I have been preparing for a transition

black and white patterns floating on the surface

but when you said change I thought you meant good



This is what I know about snakes:

They are not very good at protecting your heart


Even when you wrap them around a red candle


Even when you hang the eastern version of the western diamondback across the

most important alter in your house


Even when you dream that you save them from a fire


Even when you dream that you love them


Even when you carry a bag that is made out of cow but made to look like them


Even when you cover your steering wheel with fabric made to look like them


Even when you long to cover your whole body in their skin


Even when you will not allow them to be a bad omen


Even when you drive into the tin creosote desert during a storm to find them


Even then they are not very good at it

Even then there is a hollow shed with no rattle

Even then someone should not use

Even then




Kristen E. Nelson writes cross-genre texts. She is the author of the chapbook Write, Dad (Unthinkable Creatures, 2012) and has published work in Drunken Boat, Tarpaulin Sky, Dinosaur Bees, and Everyday Genius among others. She is a founder and the Executive Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, a non-profit writing center in Tucson, Arizona; a curator/editor for Trickhouse and a production editor for Tarpaulin Sky Press. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and teaches English and creative writing in Tucson, Arizona.