Ni Quan Tends Her Father’s Snakes

By Valerie L. Egar

Published in The Cape Rock as “The Snake Merchant’s Daughter”

In a house filled with sorrow,

a mother who mirrored the moon’s cycles,

a father whose homecoming

brought gifts or beatings or both,

the snakes had a steadiness I admired.

I fed them rats, mice, young birds,

and found their bite no worse

than the words I heard from my bed.

Every fall, cooled by winds that frosted

the plums, they grew docile,

their scales golden in a dying sun.

I tucked each into a winter nest

of dried dung, peat and leaves,

and grieved their sleeping in my dreams.