Visiting the Largest Live Rattlesnake Exhibit in North America

First, silence. Then a single fly, the noise
of a terrible patience rubbing its hands
together, before talk radio’s tiny rantings
start to bleed from cars nosing into the lot.
Another day, another dolor. For 100 miles
in any direction this homemade splendor,
built with the old West’s ruinous hope
something might be wrung from land
that promises so much yet yields so little,
plus the termite enthusiasm of convicts
illuminating saints’ lives on handkerchiefs,
provides the only destination, discounting
the four dismal burros at Jackassic Park
over an hour ago. Though none of this
travels the distance needed to explain why
we’ve passed these moments accepting
the dark gratefully, letting our noses forget
so many nocturnal predators together
smell like a stranger on our parent’s pillow.
Scorpions, black-licorice vinegaroons,
a fist-sized blonde tarantula stepping
deliberate as a musclebound bodybuilder
share fractions of a rattlesnake’s long power
to fascinate. Before lit vitrines we stand
like the Royal Society’s frock-coated members
marveling over reports from the New World:
of rattlers’ loathsome matings and appalling
beauty, of a victim’s boot killing two more
men until the ominous tooth was pulled
from its leather, of men seized by sorrow
before the snake could be seen or heard,
and pit vipers so sentient they stared back
at men and marveled, tails shaking until
they seemed a vapor. What do we know
better? The sky outside is hot, cloudless,
the blue out of which disaster strikes.
Relieved to laugh at the rattler’s habitat
in mountains, woods, and deserts, inheritors
to an anxious paradise clustered votively
in the dark, what do we feel for $5.00? Safe.