Had there been no green in him one would not have thought
Him to have been envenomed, but starting back from the
Darting of this virid twister, one forgets at least
For a moment that there is no question of his virulence here.
His color is drawn from the grass in which he flickers,
But washed as by the water colorist’s hand that had
Drawn the whole snake from nature. And it is for that –
For the garment of the benign he wears – that we recoil
From his intrusions as we do not from those of most
Of his brothers, black, striped or evilly mottled.
In junkyards, motionless lengths of rotten tubing.
Or rusted coils of spring; on battered, gray sidewalks,
The half-dried, gray serpent-stump an unleashed dog left
To affront the carelessness of our steps; and in the Garden
Of Parodies, some creature like the ambiguous Slank – all these
Subtle questioners of our state are of the same tribe
As the green one, one with the ambiance through which they creep,
presence unwrenched from a background, startling, until rescued
By what we know of the world, to our alien eyesight.
© John Hollander | 1979 | Blue Wine and Other Poems| Published by The John Hopkins University Press