William Kelley Woolfitt

The Skin of a Viper’s Jaw Transfigured

1906: Tamanrasset, Hoggar, Algeria

Shaded by boulders, cooling my feet in dark sand,
I brush my arch against a golden rope that shudders, rises
up to strike. I see scales like jewels, then light
pouring through the delicate skin of its hinged jaw

as it kisses my heel. Ragged heat washes through me as I
fall. I taste India rubber, and petals of blood
leak from my nose, my bones melt, and I become
a sack of jelly. The viper is gone. I am alone,

none to ease my thirst or lie with me in my grave.
Then the Tuareg shepherd carries me to Dassine’s tent,
and anoints my wound with red iron, lashes
a strap around my ankle, and burns my foot again.

I smell my flesh cooking, I vomit, drowse, and drink
the potions Dassine brings me. I sleep, sail to France
where my mother rips a lace shawl. When I wake,
I sit up and eat sour milk from Dassine’s spoon.

William Kelley Woolfitt teaches creative writing and American literature at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is the author of a book of poetry, Beauty Strip, forthcoming from Texas Review Press. He is also the author of a fiction chapbook, The Boy with Fire in His Mouth (2014). His poems and stories appear in Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, Threepenny Review, Tin House online, New Ohio Review, Appalachian Heritage, The Cincinnati Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, River Styx, the Virginia Quarterly Review Instapoetry Series, and elsewhere.

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