Liberation by Calvin Ahlgren

With blunt-tip snips I cut a long snake loose from the bird netting she’d got snagged in, hunting the mouse that wintered in my potting table. What a mess. The corner stank from mouse piss where the beastie gnawed the plastic tarp and my pruner’s nylon sheath, to line its nest. The gopher snake pursued the stench and snared herself in plastic grid that gave enough, she thought she’d make it through. Tightening like an earnest lie. Slowly strangling. No exit.

“Garter Snake Caught in Net” (image via Flickr user Jason Matthews)

When I found her there, a kinked yard long and thicker than a big man’s thumb, I thought she was already done. Lifeless, limp, and knotted. But as I snipped the plastic strand by strand she writhed and roused enough to hiss in my direction, feebly, just protective steam called up from who knows where, the last spit of resistance.

The netting lay half-covered under topsoil drifted with the years, since I’d draped the stuff beneath the lemon tree, to ward a neighbor’s cat off crapping in the dirt there. Bad garden karma coming back. I was that snake’s enabler. Called her in from the wild to deal with gophers that maraud each spring, an annual contagion spreading north from the red clay hill that eats my sunsets before their glory fills.

Sweating and cursing and cajoling, I liberated her, no harm to either of us. Gritting my teeth as her scaly rope-turns groped my shirted forearm. I let her down among the clumping crane’s beak at the rose’s thorny feet, the one that blooms reluctantly, peachflash/sundown fire with a curled sneer of a beautiful yellow lip.

She disappeared, a fish in pond shadow. I don’t know what I expected but I’m keeping one eye out as I wrestle blowsy end-of-summer weeds, pluck louche lettuce fists and head-hung blooms that nod, thick and open-mouthed from the cool brick patio all the way back to stalky compost beds.

Calvin Ahlgren migrated from Tennessee to Northern California in the interests of grad school education, but stayed because the area felt like the home that hides beneath biographical irrelevancies. A career in print journalism served to sublimate the regular practice of writing poetry for a time until it re-erupted with a will and reasserted itself all over his life. He may be reached at calvinahlgren@att.net.