Under the Pecan Tree

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.