Ron would bring his slow worms
to Sunday school. There the beasts
would slither like Satan from his pocket
along the pew, my way. I shuddered,
but the vicar’s bird-of-prey eye,
able to scorch and raze humanity,
was helpless to quell the serpent.
I suffered the torments of the damned.
At home, I read in fascination
of the king cobra’s poisonous bite.
(Makers of empire and exploring men
gone within minutes of the nip).
Constrictors, pythons, swallowing sheep,
wrapping a coil of ten yards long
around such beings as ourselves.
Yes, I know, the slow worm is harmless,
not a snake at all. And adders? We’d seen
odd ones, over the years, but their bite
would take a week to kill you,
if you died at all. And they were timid.
Well, that’s great to know, I thought,
but suddenly, the following Sunday,
as the slow worms slid the pew again,
I thought, now just suppose
it’s like the mushroom, toadstool thing
and Ronnie’s got this wrong
and that’s an adder slithering my way,
with the voice of the vicar powerless to help.
© Robert Nisbet