THE LATE AMBASSADORIAL LIGHT Light reaches through a leaf and that light, diminished, passes through another leaf, and another, down to the lawn beneath.
Green, green, the high grass shivers.
Water over a stone, and bees, bees around the flowers, deep-tiered beds of them, yellows and golds and reds.
Saw-blade ferns feather in the breeze.
And, just as a cloud’s corner catches the sun, a tiny glint in the garden—the milk of a broken stalk? A lion’s tooth?
Or might that be the delicate labia of an orchid?
SAY YOU’RE BREATHING just as you do every day, in and out, in and out, and in each breath: one tick of a shaving from a bat’s eyelash, an invisible sliver of a body mite who lived near Caligula’s shin, diamond dust (we each inhale a carat in a lifetime), a speck of scurf from the Third Dynasty (that of the abundant imbeciles), one sulfurous grain from the smoke of a mortar round, a mote of marrow from a bone poking through a shallow grave, a whiff from a mummy grinder caught in a Sahara wind, most of the Sahara itself, inhaled in Greenland, sweat dried to crystal on your father’s lip and lifted to the sky before you were born—all, all, a galaxy of fragments floating around you every day, inhaled every day, happy to rest in your lungs until they are dust again and again risen.
DRY BITE When the krait strikes but does not loose his venom: dry bite. What makes the snake choose not to kill you? Not Please, not I didn’t mean to step on you. He may be fresh out: struck recently something else. But: if he withholds his poison, when does he do so and why?
Can he tell you are harmless to him?
He can’t swallow you, so why kill you?
There’s no use asking the krait: he’s deaf.
In that chemical, that split-billionth of a second, he decides and the little valve of his venom sac stays shut or opens wide.
Dry, oh dry, dry bite—lucky the day you began to wear the krait’s snake-eyed mark on your wrist and you walked down the mountain into the valley of that which remains of your life.
Copyright © 2004 by Thomas Lux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.