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.