The Day the Snakes Came


We thought, at first, that we were imagining them:
that sliver of disturbed dust by the sidewalk, that

hint of damp on the kitchen floor. Then we thought they
were an aberration: the one found coiled in young

Markowitz’s bathroom sink, the other around
the apple strudel in Mrs. Polski’s icebox.

The beasts have been sent among us, said Leopold,
to rob us of our children and to destroy our

cattle. Since we knew he drank his meals, we shook our
heads and pitied his daughter Leah who came each

night to drag her father home, his arms waving like
snakes. Then others began to talk. Everywhere, there

was snake talk: It’s been pretty dry the last few years;
they’re just looking for water. Old Farmer Johnson

must have turned up a lot of rocks in his field this
spring. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Some people even laughed. Then our neighbors began
slicking back their hair. Our children practiced flicking

their tongues in front of the bathroom mirrors and changed
their names to snake names. By September the snakes were

everywhere. Glistening black bodies swarmed over
the sidewalks, bubbled out of the water pipes, milled

out of morning cereal. Some tried to ignore
the snakes. They were the first to disappear. Others

argued: They don’t have any reason to hurt us.
What have we done to them? If we don’t bother them,

they won’t bother us. They were next to vanish. A
few brave ones tried to learn snake words, to untangle

the slithering black unrest. Their facility
at languages could not save them. But most of us

tried to protect ourselves. The snakes caught us any
time: when we were gathering fruit in the garden,

when we reached into the basket of knitting, when
we crawled into bed at night. Then suddenly, one

spring day, the snakes were gone. A cold wind blew in their
place. We lost most of our village to the snakes. We

heard the same from neighboring towns. The wind chilled us.
We swept the brittle carcasses out of our homes,

replanted our gardens, and tried to rebuild new,
snake-less lives. The years passed. The wind blew cold, hard words

at us: There must have been something to upset the
snakes: they only attack to protect themselves. It

could never happen here. I never saw a snake
in my life. If they were here, they weren’t in my house.

But we have taught our children about the snakes. We
teach them how to wield bats, how to ignore wispy

whispered snake charms, how to crush a snake’s head with their
heels. Because late at night we hear them, late at night

rustling feverishly around the base of the house,
their long fangs clicking, their lidless eyes watching.

amazon-logo_black copy



Read excerpts from 
Where Lightning Strikes:
Poems on The Holocaust

The Dead Bodies that Line the Streets

The Dead Bodies that Line the Streets

The Dead Bodies that Line the Streets chatter and snipe at me constantly, as if I were responsible for their being there. But I ignore ...
Continue reading
Lager-Lieder (Camp Songs)

Lager-Lieder (Camp Songs)

Not last night but the night before, twenty- four Gestapo came knocking at the door. As we ran out, they ran in, and this is ...
Continue reading
On the Other Hand,

On the Other Hand,

On the Other Hand, death: not everyone’s favorite topic of conversation, I know, but some things they have to be talked about, they can’t be ...
Continue reading
Survivor: One Who Survives

Survivor: One Who Survives

The only difference between a madman and myself is that I am not mad. Salvador Dali Four or five times a day, steamy baths fog away her ...
Continue reading
The Day the Snakes Came

The Day the Snakes Came

We thought, at first, that we were imagining them: that sliver of disturbed dust by the sidewalk, that hint of damp on the kitchen floor ...
Continue reading
Letter to Sylvia

Letter to Sylvia

I praised the dead, which are already dead, more than the living, who are yet alive. Ecclesiastes 4:2 For years, whenever I thought of visiting you, a certain ...
Continue reading

Read Where Lightning Strikes: Poems on The Holocaust
free any time Kindle Unlimited

Not a Kindle Unlimited member?
Start reading with a 30-day free trial.*

Don’t have a Kindle? Read Kindle ebooks
on any device with the free Kindle app
for iOS, Android, PC, & Mac

Where Lightning Strikes: Poems on the Holocaust

© 1980-1986, 2000-2007, 2013 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
May not be reprinted or excerpted without written permission.
Please do not support piracy of Intellectual Property

* This is an affiliate link: if you join KU,
I may receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you.*


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.