I first learned the killing will of men
￼when my mother was away in town,
￼and my father was baling hay
￼in a back field beyond the house.￼
The rancher’s boy and I had parked
￼to gather nuts for my mother’s pie
￼under the old pecan tree, where he
￼found a rattler, a diamondback,
￼bigger than he’d ever seen.
Coulda killed a girl twice yer size in one bite.
￼It was coiled in the grasses
￼near the dirt road, hidden between the shadows
￼of the large tree and the blinding midsummer sun.
￼In the humidity, I could barely hear its startled rattle.
￼He took his daddy’s sledgehammer
￼from the truck with two hands,
￼choking up on the yard-long handle before
￼rearing back and reeling forward.
￼It swung like a pendulum in the air above him,
￼the hammer hanging from his arm,
￼a steel-tipped fang as it crushed the snake’s head.
￼I screamed while he splintered bones against gravel,
￼striking again and again so its scales fractured,
￼matched the rocks of the road,
￼its tail disappearing into the dried jiggs.
￼When he was done, and stepped away,
￼I leaned in to see the red blooms
￼spilling from open seams,
￼the way the diamond pattern along its back
￼twisted now, broken and wrong.
￼He yanked the rattle off and tossed it
￼to my basket of pecans
￼where it clattered, then fell still.
Make somethin’ pretty fer yerself, honey.
￼In the distance, the cicadas were singing
￼their ballad to the dead, rattling their tymbals
￼once, twice, before fading into the silence of the heat.