(with apologies to D H Lawrence)
I saw a snake beside me on the road,
High on a mountain track -
Both of us some way from home perhaps,
The V for vicious branded on his head.
I'd never seen a viper before then -
Barely seen a snake except when separated
By antiseptic zoological glass.
But yes, I knew it then:
When I was young I dreaded them
Beyond the usual horrors of monstrous ghosts,
Refused to venture down the thrilling path
Where garden and brick wall met in heaps of grass,
For fear that V that lurked there would leap
Into reality. It never did,
But now we meet,
An echo through the decades
Of that dread V,
That not quite dead nightmare of the undergrowth.
But now I see it, warming in the sun,
I recognise something in it:
A fellow being far from home
Like me, an uncertain right
To be there on the road,
So flagrant in its contempt for traffic.
I stood above it for a moment,
My childhood fears shrunk to a proper size,
Then I looked a little closer.
It was dead.
And I felt a burst of loss,
Not for the snake perhaps, or its fear, but
For all the giant colours of childhood -
The monster of the grass,
The grandeur of life beyond the flowerbed,
Where vipers lay in wait.