December 22021 If Not Now … When?

  • What am I waiting for?
  • Why not now?
  • What holds me back?
  • When?

The Black Snake

   by Mary Oliver

When the black snake

flashed onto the morning road,

and the truck could not swerve—

death, that is how it happens.

Now he lies looped and useless

as an old bicycle tire.

O stop the car

and carry him into the bushes.

He is as cool and gleaming

as a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quiet

as a dead brother

I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking

about death: its suddenness,

its terrible weight,

its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones

have always preferred.

It is the story of endless good fortune.

It says to oblivion: not me!

It is the light at the center of every cell.

It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward

happily all spring through the green leaves before

he came to the road.

            —from Twelve Moons (1979) and collected in

New and Selected Poems, Volume One (1992) Beacon Press

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