This week’s poem comes from Pascale Petit’s third collection, The Huntress, published in 2005.
In Pascale Petit’s highly-charged third collection, a daughter is haunted by her mentally ill mother, and a painful childhood is re-imagined through a series of remarkable and passionate transformations. The feared mother is a rattlesnake, an Aztec goddess, a Tibetan singing bowl, a stalagmite, a praying mantis, a ghost orchid. These culminate in a long central poem where the daughter escapes her huntress as a cosmic stag. Underlying these poems is an intense mystical vision that lifts the dark material of the subject matter above the merely personal.
The Snake House
It’s time to go up to your front door, Mother,
and ring the rattling buzzer of a bell,
the door with two curved fangs.
I go in, into the muscular throat of the hall,
down the tunnel that’s closing now
to a pinpoint of light.
I’m in the swallowing living-room,
washing it for you, half-alive,
like a man preparing for the rain-dance
in the dry arroyo. He reaches
into the pit and washes the snakes
so that later when he dances with the ‘little mothers’
in his mouth, they won’t bite.
I’m a child playing in the pen
with my pet rattlers,
giving them bread and milk.
As long as I’m unscared
they won’t strike. And you’re saying,
“Only a girl-child can do this”.
My cheeks are almost seamless now,
countless grafts hide the necrosis.