by Karen Jane Cannon
In Sussex fields we saw the wooden sign —
red letters warning us of adders hid
under tall nettles, long cow parsley, but
we never saw a tell-tale V slide by.
I’d heard of adders caught by magic, drawn
to circles marked out in dirt, the skin
then sold for medicine and oil so rare
to find. It took me twenty years to see
my first wild snake. We lived high up, lost
in leaded Lowther hills. Our cat came back
with sticky marks across his neck and shook
and spat until the venom passed — so strange
to find the wild so near to home. The snake
lay dead outside, her eyes fused shut, under
those see-through lids, with diamond patterned skin
still warm and soft to touch. I’ve heard it said
an adder will not die until sunset
and viper means in Latin birth and life.
Females will swallow young to protect them
from harm and symbolize wisdom and luck.
Maybe that Sussex CAUTION ADDERS! sign
in fact was meant for them, not us — for while
we’ve robbed their habitats and might yet wipe
them out, our own numbers remain intact.
Karen Jane Cannon’s poems have appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including Acumen, Orbis, Obsessed with Pipework, The Interpreter’s House and Ink, Sweat & Tears, as well as anthologies such as Rewiring History and The Sea. She was commended for The Flambard Poetry Prize 2014