Rattlesnake, Oklahoma Today, July/August 2005
On a sightseeing trip through my father’s childhood,
we pass a large rattlesnake, about four feet long, a picture-book rattler
with a beautiful diamond pattern on its back, and fat, venomous jowls, dead in the road.
I ask my father to slow down for a look, but he says he’s seen enough
of dead snakes in his time to keep him, no need for another.
We are driving south, toward Ninnekah, to visit the houses, once twin,
but grown apart in age, just like people, where his aunties, Ida and Ella, once lived.
I am not sure why these houses are important. They are old, like the aunties
in the photograph my father shows me, already ancient when he was a boy.
They stand close to the road, one shut tight and partly covered with brambles,
the other naked, paint peeling, with a young girl and three babies
playing together on its sagging porch. The girl invites us in, of course:
Oklahoma hospitality. But my father would rather remember the house the way it was,
and I don’t ask about the past, its dead interior life.
Still, she obligingly takes our photographs with the Polaroid camera I have brought.
On the way back, past Ninnekah, I look for the dead rattlesnake,
but find only an empty place on the road where it lay. The photo I hold in my hand
shows my father and me standing side by side before towering honeysuckle,
the two houses and their shut up memories behind us.
My father’s arm is around me.