The Girl Who Buried Snakes in a Jar

By John Haines 1924–2011 John Haines
She came to see the bones
whiten in a summer,
and one year later a narrow
mummy with a dusty skin
and flaking scales
would break apart in her hand.

She wanted to see if sunlight
still glinted in those eyes,
to know what it lighted
from a window on the mallow roots,
leaf mold and fallen casques.

And to ask if a single tongue,
one forked flicker in the dark,
had found any heat in death:
in the closed space and chill
of that burial, what speech,
what sign would there be.

She who walked in the canyon early,
parted the grass and halted
upon the living snake, coiled
and mottled by a bitter pool,

unearthed her jar in another spring,
to find the snake spirit gone,
only a little green water standing,
some dust, or a smell.

                                                    (1974)

"The Girl Who Buried Snakes in a Jar". Copyright © 1993 by John Haines. Reprinted from The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Source: The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1993)

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Poet John Haines 1924–2011

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Nature, Animals

 John  Haines

Biography

Poet and essayist John Haines was born in 1924 and studied art and painting at the National Art School, the American University, and the Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art. In 1947, Haines bought a 160-acre homestead claim 80 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, intending to pursue painting. According to Haines, when his paints froze, he turned to writing. His collections of poetry include Winter News (1966); The Stone Harp (1971); . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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