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Cottonmouth.

 The man's mouth unhinged.
 He said, I broke my jaw and it open likes this now.
         I heard the wet click of little bones unfastening.
~
I woke up before anyone else and walked outside barefoot
to the chilled porch still slick with a thin layer of morning dew.
There was a little coral snake asleep, coiled by a rocking chair.
I wasn't afraid this time.
~
We were told the snake was the most beautiful thing
God created until the snake wanted to be God or like a God
or Godlike. (I'm not sure now.)
~
It happened again-the same dream.
~
I have seen three women give birth and with each contraction the mighty
hips break and loosen, the leathery mouth of a snake.
I watched as they writhed inside the all-consuming pain, pure as God,
fists clenched and wailing something not quite human, but animal enough.
~
Once, she dreamt she swallowed a snake till she became the snake--
looping, legless reptile, thick and aching. She woke up paralyzed
until she shouted Jesus. Her arms grasping the invisible beast, blacking
the dark.
~
The guy with the broken mouth baptized me once inside a Pentecostal
church. He said I had to be fully immersed for it to count for heaven,
                               you know.
He said Jesus' name only-- No trinity, just Jesus.
Then he touched me under the water. Plucked'and dripping, I came to
the surface, and I shouted and they shouted. Everyone's mouths open
in praise.
~
The snake hisses like a married man. He measured and whispered slow:
      You better. Get out. Of my car.
In a way that meant devour
: to swallow me
 whole--
crystalline sweat stippled across his forehead, his eyes, feral and
glinting like two Tiger Eye gemstones. The street glazed with vulgar
light. I felt so vulnerable when the tiny metals unlatched
from my seatbelt
              breaking jangled air
                            with delicious clatter.
I was a good girl
 that night, he later said.
~
Lateral undulation:
We swam in the river until we saw a snake muscling the skin of the water
with mini ripples-making waves, then circles.
~
... they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of
the earth ...
The broken jaw: Eight centimeters now :: Push, Push
.
All I remember about my grandmother is her pouf of white hair dolloped
in her coffin, a cloudy cotton boll.
I snatch the silver snakes inside my own black wool hair. Still, I
can't wait to be like her--all fog and forgetting.
Am I being eaten, or eating? Who can say, really?
~
So the dream goes something like this:
         a snake slithered   between my legs,
  poured out my                       mouth-one long continuous
loop--glossy                            glittering scales-voluminous
muscle--                                 elongated might-becoming
ouroboros                             --my body a circle
    becoming                           samsara--entering
     and exiting                    the holy, holy O
       at the center           of my deepening
                        meat.
~
To creep, to crawl.
 I crawl. My mother licks the floor with her feet.
I bite John Berryman's tail and Henry runs out of his mouth.
I crawl inside John Berryman's mouth and manumit Henry. Now Henry
is free.
Henry, you don't have to talk like that
 anymore.
~
What if he wanted to leave his wife and find another keeled and granular
body. His belly travels I like a snake. She believes her father is also
snake.
~
I have so many dark scars and purpled bruises on my legs.
I have my mother's knees, crunchy and difficult. Everything hurts
when I'm about to go to sleep.
The snake is ready for me, shhhhh
.
~
Every time she passes this one motel-she shivers at the things she did
with her body to the man
with the mouth of a snake-all his holy, masculine fire consuming
her-whole, she was taken.
After.
He prayed for forgiveness.   Not from her. But from God. To make him
able and clean again.
She is always in that room
                             on the bed, naked
                             like prey.
~
I've got two fangs  in my mouth        that could pierce you. My
cross-bite never     ground down my teeth.
I used to bite  myself in my sleep, but never drew blood. I gave birth
to myself-and held myself there. There. 


Tiana Clark is the author of Equilibrium, selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. She is the winner of the 2017 Furious Flower's Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize, 2016 Academy of American Poets University .Prize, and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize.
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Title Annotation:three poems
Author:Clark, Tiana
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:May 1, 2017
Words:806
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