|The Snake Charmer, Henri Rousseau, 1907|
Gather round and hear my tale of paper-cut leaves
and sticky tape, punch out birds and string grass dipped in glue
and painted tempura green.
Come children and listen to the whistle of the man-dog-gorilla,
on his hind legs, cloaked with skin of others and his own.
His splayed toes grip the bank and the pipe,
his chant slinks undulating to the moon, picking up wayfarers,
footless beasts with ears all belly and sound like lunar rings.
His familiar, if he has one, waits again, keeping erect,
apart, listening for the songs’ end:
the transfiguration of serpents to leaves to trees to sound
that flies and grows wings be-feathered,
tosses from limb to limb to fern and vine.
Keep close children: do not stray: the enchantment lasts
only for now, here in this grove of tenderness
while beyond the water, where the moon lands coyly,
the serpents have no speech to respond to the call,
no souls to uplift, no laughter to charm the feathers from the trees.
Away, the leaves are not cut paper but poison and dead,
the grass nettles, the fangs bite.
The dog-man-gorilla is haunted and snared
and his song and all its lessons, dies in silence.
Thanks to Tess Kincaid for the image and the prompt. More Magpie are here