The snakes of September

Stanley Kunitz

All summer I heard them
rustling in the shrubbery,
outracing me from tier
to tier in the garden,
a whisper among the viburnums,
a signal flashed from the hedgerow,
a shadow pulsing
in the barberry thicket.
Now that the nights are chill
and the annuals spent,
I should have thought them gone,
in a torpor of blood
slipped to the nether world
before the sickle frost.
Not so. In the deceptive balm
of noon, as if defiant of the curse
that spoiled another garden,
these two appear on show
through a narrow slit
in the dense green brocade
of a north-country spruce,
dangling head-down, entwined
in a brazen love-knot.
I put out my hand and stroke
the fine, dry grit of their skins.
After all,
we are partners in this land,
co-signers of a covenant.
At my touch the wild
braid of creation
trembles.

Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006) is one of the essential American poets--a writer who extended the traditions of poetry in English that go back to Chaucer and Shakespeare while being utterly American and fully contemporary. He also exercised broad influence as a teacher, because he mentored many of the best modern U.S. poets. Kunitz was still writing in his 90s, and the poems of his last years--this is one of them--have an extraordinary, concentrated beauty.

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