Blacktail


Along the trail, scattered gold with sunlit dust
I tilt my heart, face full in searing sunset, upwards
to the sky. I think about the blooming cholla, pink
and warm as grapefruit flesh, the curved spines of fishhook

barrel cacti reaching towards my bare calves. The trail winds on
up the slow curve of the small mountain and we follow
it. When the dust storm kicked up by our boots clears sharp
and sudden with the crack and buzz of a rattlesnake, we jump

back without knowing where to jump from. Still seething
the crisp paper hollow of her tail, we find her cloistered in
silver sage, a mere six inches from where my foot had been
before. We do not move further. Instead I snap pictures

and watch as this delicate potential murderess quiets, decides
about us, matter-of-factly curls in the opposite direction
and takes her time moving away. She slides like a glissando
through the prickly pears, heavy with flowers and ripening

fruit, no tourist to the spines they lay in front of her. I wonder
how she can pull her body so easily through the desert brush
without always pausing to look back towards her shaded tail,
to make sure her scaled skin was not catching on the needles

fastened cruel to the cacti arms, pointing at the sun. I watch
her go elegant as tiger’s eye and feel the heavy weight of my own hiking
boots on loose gravel. And even though she is so stunning, I find
I cannot continue on, cannot cross the path she has taken, must

turn back to the dark blue Volkswagen at the bottom of the hill,
imagining all the snaps and cadence of rattles ahead that I never
considered before. Wondering what this undulation of fear and awe
has to do with how I move daily through the concave of my own hours.

By Erin Renee Wahl

Large rattlesnake coiling on path


Erin Renee Wahl’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Sterling, Dirty Chai, Spiral Orb, Cirque, and others. She currently lives and works in Fairbanks, Alaska. Click here to visit her website.

Photo by Avery Uslaner

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