by Helen Conkling
Some boys captured garter snakes
to bring to the country schoolroom
of forty-six children.
"Can we keep them?"
I was the teacher. I said yes.
The snakes had arrived in cages
but during the day they came sliding,
through wire mesh, to coil on the cool floor,
gaze and then sleep.
Children stepped around. I stepped over and around.
Those who wished to draw pictures of snakes
could come close and observe
snake mouths, snake eyes, tails and scale-
patterns, curves of the bodies.
Pressing hard with their crayons, they made bright black,
green, brown, stripes of pale yellow.
This was their work. They did no other work that day.
And they signed their pictures before showing them:
Estella, David, Miguel, Douglas, Linda, Dennis, Mateo, Lee Ann.
Then Raul refilled the snakes' water bowls
and I opened all the windows so they could sense the rain
and it was time to go home.
During the night the janitor came.
He wrote on the chalkboard, "Miss,
Get rid of them snakes or I won't sweep your room."
So this morning the boys carried them back
to the woods and the creek where they found them
and the reading groups have begun
and the group of beginning English.
And the seatwork written on the board
gives its usual instructions,
while students who are more advanced
help the others in the schoolroom of forty-six children,
where all around, on all the walls
pictures of snakes have been taped,
snakes tapered and gliding with a rubbed sheen
through weeds, over sand, past logs, snakes in the rain,
snakes under suns and underground, snakes swimming in water.