January 16, 2021

Poetry Week: Morning Four – Damaris Zehner

Ormterräng (Snake Terrain). Bruno Liljefors

This Fallen World
By Damaris Zehner

I walked every day through the West African town,
Rust-red dirt beneath my feet, green leaves crowding overhead.
The sounds of chickens and of mortars pounding
Marked the houses hiding in the trees along the road.

But one day, at my feet, against the rust-red dirt, I saw
A streak of green – grass-green, glittering emerald.
I bent to look: a tiny mamba, just hatched, innocent
As Adam on his first day in paradise, and poison.

Entranced by its brightness, I crouched
In the rust-red dirt and speckled shade.
I looked at it; it looked back me, unmoved.

“Da SNAKE!” a voice screeched from the end of the road.
How could she even see the tiny creature in the dust?
“You mu’ kill it!”

I stood up and considered the hatchling at my feet.
Beyond its beauty I could see
The barefoot children playing in the yards
Of worried mothers too familiar with death.

I picked up a stone, dropped it on the snake’s head,
And stepped down, hard.


  1. Robert F says

    dozens of insects
    swarm by our dim front-door bulb
    prisoners of light

  2. Robert F says

    Whatever fallenness is, and whatever its cause or causes, its greatest curse is not that we will one day surely die, but that we must now kill to live. This necessity of killing, of destroying what we have not created, is why we and the whole creation require redemption and a redeemer; it is the central problem that all religions exist and attempt to address, and it is what constitutes our guilt before God and our fellow creatures.

  3. I once herded a rattlesnake away from the main lodge out in the Oregon woods, walking slowly to its side and slightly behind it, barefoot, explaining as we went that it could not be here where children played. It never came back. This would not have been an option with a mamba. The racial memory is strong in this poem, “and you will crush its head.” That basic antagonism shows up again in the olden testament tales of instructions to exterminate the Canaanites, which gives us so much trouble today and which I usually don’t find satisfactorily explained away by modern commenters. It makes much more sense to understand that this culture reaching back to Babylon and beyond was based on religious ritual torture and sacrifice of children. Eliminating it in Canaan would not have eliminated it in the world, but would have established a beach head, but not even that was attained. This seems like ancient myth, but the practice is alive and well today, is reptilian at its core, and the war continues on outside the boundaries of orthodox religion and science and history.

    Adam and Eve were given our basic choice, choose life or choose death, as were the Israelites standing between the mountain tops, as were those hearing Jesus speak, as are we today. On the surface it doesn’t look like we’ve gained a whole lot in understanding during that time, but I see humanity slowly waking up thruout the world and even here. Sooner or later the dragon is bound and we can play our part in this epic story, alas, the little mamba playing its part as well. An even better lesson coming out of Africa, new to the world and not well received in the West, Truth and Reconciliation, requiring great discernment and faith, more than we can usually muster up, and not yet possible with the mamba.

  4. Thank you, Damaris, and you other poets. I love your writing.

    • Rick Ro. says

      +1. Poetry isn’t everyone’s “thing,” but I write some of it and read some of it, and this week has been nice.

  5. It is heartening to be part of a congregation where not only a whole week is devoted to poetry, but where anyone can post poetry at any time. If this happens anywhere else on the planet I am not aware of it. Not everyone appreciates this, but I certainly do, and I also appreciate our home grown photos that round out the picture. Blessed be!

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