Out of the Furnace

We weren't Catholic, though looking back,
I see him as a sort of priest—
my redheaded older brother, tasked
like some antique authority
to know every twisted place, every disjointed
thing or how to disjoint it.
When he stretched out a Daddy-Longlegs,
it pointed to the field where we'd find the cows.
Red and black ants, penned together in the bed
of his rusty Red Flyer wagon,
battled to the death. He'd sic our dog
on any other dog that sidled past the gate,
and cats landed always on their feet,
no matter how many times he tossed them
to the shed roof. In the trough
where we cooled milk cans for the dairy,
he baptized kittens in the name of the Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost. I, his mute witness,
altar girl to his every rite. So it wasn't
surprise that shot through me
when he swung wide the furnace door,
and drew from his pocket a garter snake, flicking it
into the coals. He made me look,
not that I could pull my eyes away.
Did I see vestigial feet exposed, as flames
licked up, or was it only that I believed
what my big brother told me to believe?
It was Biblical, he said, proving Genesis.
If God cursed the serpent to crawl on its belly,
then it must have once had feet.
He said that God placed "enmity"
between the snake and all of womankind,
though I felt only pity for it,
the garter, burning,
who had never told me anything but truth.

Bethany Reid's Sparrow won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize. Her recent poetry books are Body My House (Goldfish Press, 2018), and The Thing with Feathers, which was published as part of Triple No. 10 by Ravenna Press (2020). (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761