About That Snake   Memorial Day, 2015

I have forgotten my loves, and chiefly that one, the cancerous
statue which my body could no longer contain,
against my will
against my love
become art,
I could not change it into history
and so remember it,
and I have lost what is always and everywhere
present, the scene of my selves, the occasion of these ruses,
which I myself and singly must now kill
and save the serpent in their midst.
Frank O’Hara.

Born in Florence, which is also the birthplace of the Renaissance, David's birth certificate read, “Oh Boy,” followed by “Snake” in parentheses. His mom named him David after the Sculpture by Michelangelo. She was kind of hot for that sculpture. Lot's of people still are. It’s the most famous sculpture in the world. What she liked about David the Sculpture was his ass. On summer evenings she would slither into the Accademia di Belle Art to have an oogle. She knew that when she named her son David, he would never grow up to have an ass like David the Sculpture’s, because snakes don't have asses. But that didn't seem to matter to David's mom. She simply hoped for the best for her little snake son. She also knew that David the Sculpture was named after David the Shepherd who slew Goliath with his slingshot and consequentially became David the King. She knew about David the Shepherd because she read it in a book. The first chapter was about a garden snake who co-starred in Eden.

As David grew up to be a teenager snake he became more flexible in many respects. He found he could wiggle his body all sorts of ways all at the same time. This came in handy for days he felt feminine, and then other days he felt like a macho macho man. On his feminine days he would dress up in little girl's clothing and play with snake dolls. On his masculine days he smoked Cuban cigars that he pilfered from is father's humidor. Of course this was all a bit confusing, because those clichés often don't hold true. Sometimes macho macho men play with snake dolls, and ladies smoke Cuban cigars.

His mom and dad didn't care that he dressed up like a girl. But his cigar smoking posed all kinds of problems for him and his family. For one, his dad who was a smoker didn't want his son to follow in his footsteps even though snakes don't really have footsteps. Snakes do have lungs like people, but they are thin and delicate lungs so they can fit into a snake's body. To be honest, snakes only have one lung, the right one. I am not sure why biologists call it the right one since there is no left one. But evidently nature could only fit one full-fledged lung into a snake’s thin body. On top of that, it was difficult for David to reach out and light a cigar because he didn't have arms.

Even worse, the cigar was about the same diameter as the thickness of David's body, so the cigar looked like a weirdly stiff extension of his snake self with a hot burning butt on the front end. Now a cigar butt is not to be confused with the butt of David the Sculpture's ass. I don’t want any confusion between a hot burning cigar butt and the cool marble spheres of David the Sculpture's ass.

In order to smoke, David had to wedge the cigar between his two poison fangs. This was a bit rough, and consequentially it hid the two things that contributed to a snake’s scary demeanor-- fangs and tongues. When he smoked the Cohibas (these are very good Cuban Cigars) he could no longer stick his tongue out and wiggle it around like a proper snake. Actually, he looked ridiculous. He knew that snakes were supposed to look scary, otherwise why be a snake?

To compensate, he learned to blow smoke rings. He had a knack for this. One day he had an epiphany-- why not blow a smoke ring, and before it dissolves into thin air, slither right through it. He tried, and to his amazement it worked the first time. It felt really good. He thought to himself, “Maybe this is sex.” But David really didn't have any sex to compare it to, because besides being a snake, he was a virgin.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, David had a beautiful pattern of diamonds on his back, all the way from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. But just because he had a beautiful pattern of diamonds doesn't mean that he was a diamond-backed rattlesnake. Actually David wasn't a rattlesnake. He was a copperhead. And of course copperheads don't have rattles. To his dying day he never found this out. If he had, he might have joined the Society of Concupiscent Cops, whatever that is.

Rattlesnakes inhabit the American West, and get gigs playing rattlesnakes in Westerns. David knew that rattlesnakes didn’t inhabit Cradles of the Renaissance. But he was too young and naïve, like all of us were.

Actually it turns out that David didn't know anything at all about rattlesnakes or copperheads for that matter, until one Friday night he came upon a ragtag outdoor theatre on the banks of the Arno, the famous river that runs through Florence.

Twelve chairs made especially for human asses faced north in two neat rows of six. A white sheet hung from a clothesline in front of the chairs and fluttered gently in the wind. Behind the chairs was a table upon which a light bulb set upright attached to a lens and two metal wheels. When the little audience of twelve finally seated themselves and the projector wheels began to whir, the title read, The Good the Bad and the Ugly. David wondered which category he fit into. Westerns feature cowboys, cowgirls, Indians (often in lesser rolls) and rattlesnakes. There are even pictures of rattlesnakes on the grips of the pistols that cowboys use to kill one another and Indians.

David had mixed feelings about this movie. It was enjoyable enough, even a classic. But all that killing depressed him, particularly the rattlesnake murders. Since this was his first movie ever, he wasn't totally sure if it was a classic. At the time, he didn't even know what “connoisseur” meant, and they are the people who determine what is classic and what is not.

But he did know that he was sad. Although he had a beautiful design on his back without ever having to get tattooed, he did not have a rattle like a rattlesnake should.

He slithered all though the city in search of a rattle, and then he slithered up the hill to Fiesole where once a long time ago Galileo pointed his telescope to the heavens and surmised that the earth circled the sun, instead of the other way around. This of course didn't do Galileo much good because putting earth at the center of the universe conflicted with church teachings. So to stop him from spreading his scandalous ideas, the church fathers put him under house arrest. Meanwhile, the sphere of the earth kept on spinning around the sphere of the sun, as it does so today, and will do so tomorrow.

David couldn't find a rattle up on the hill on Fiesole, so he slithered to Siena, a beautiful village south of Florence, known for its Palio, the horse race that takes place twice a year in the Pallazzo Publico. Siena is also famous for its murals, “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government,” painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Of course, David was in a hurry, not only because he wanted to find a rattle for his tail, but also because he was concerned that his mom and dad might worry. Hurrying is easy for a snake, because snakes move in three different directions at once. Part of their body slithers left while the other parts slither right. Meanwhile they manage to slither forward at the same time. This sets snakes apart from politicians who move to the left and to the right, and stand still.

One evening around sun set David came across a roving bad of gypsies. The gypsies danced, sang, and strummed their guitars. It was all so festive. David was momentarily cheered. The gypsies played a style of music called “Flamenco.” Besides Spanish guitars, one gypsy played the castanets, or more precisely, a castanet.

Now castanets are basically two small spheres carved from fancy rosewood. They come in pairs, one set for each hand. When you click the two spheres together, they sound just like the rattles of rattlesnakes in the Westerns that David watched in the little theater on the banks of the Arno. He had returned to the makeshift theater several times that summer and always enjoyed the shows. He had no need of buying tickets because the grass around the theater was high.

Because he had only one arm, this gypsy needed only one castanet. The other arm was shot off in the war--which war, he wasn't sure. Actually gypsies don't fight in wars. This gypsy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So as dusk set in, in what gypsy poets call the “Purple Hour,” all the gypsies took a bedtime snooze. David seized the moment and slithered over to the castanet that the one-armed gypsy had laid on the ground next to the Spanish guitars. A short length of leather held the two spheres together. He threaded the end of his flexi tail around and through the castanet. Now that I think of it, this flexi tail probably came in handy in lighting cigars.

He slithered back to Florence with the castanet hooked to his tail. As he made his way up and down the winding road, the castanet bounced and clicked just like a rattle.
David felt fulfilled.

When he finally arrived back at his parent’s house, his mom was ecstatic. She thought he had run away forever. But now, like a Prodigal Son, he was back.

When she noticed the castanet with its two convex spheres hooked to his tail, she cried out in wonder, “Oh my son, you have been gone for many days, but now you have come home safely. In your journey to manhood, you have acquired an ass, just like David the Sculpture's ass, but of course, a hell of a lot smaller. I am so happy for you.” Of course David knew the castanet was not an ass. It was just a castanet that sounded allot like a rattlesnake. For the first time in his life, he smiled a smile that was almost human.

This could be the end of our story-- it certainly sounds like the end-- but it's not.

Through later research, David found that most Westerns were not filmed in the American West as he had previously thought. To save money, they often shot them near Siena for what the Americans called “Spaghetti Westerns.”

Since rents were outrageously high in Florence, David lived at home with his parents for some time longer. He loved his parent's library and went on to do further research, reading anthropologies about strange feathered South American serpent gods, and books about laughter-- one in particular by Henri Bergson--and poems like Frank O'Hara's, In Memory of my Feelings. This poem became his favorite of all favorite poems, even more than the poems of Wallace Steven's, though “Sunday Morning” is quite an event. He memorized Frank's memory poem, which in fact, is very long as far as poems go-- even sublime. But that didn't seem to matter because as he grew to adulthood, he grew long too. This often happens with snakes.

Snakes have a lot in common with humans. Snakes and humans have digestive tracks. Some eat meat. Both defecate. Snakes die like humans, and humans die like snakes. This cannot be helped. Otherwise the world would be much more crowded than it already is. Just try getting out of Manhattan at 5 PM on a Friday night, or riding on the L Train at 9 O’clock on a Monday morning. To escape a crowded earth, snakes and humans would have to fly on a plane to Jupiter or Mars. There's already a movie about that. It didn't work out so well for snakes. Anyway, Mars can be incredibly boring. It's only got red rocks, no yellow ones or blue. I don't have any idea what's up on Jupiter, but I'm sure you'll need a gas mask.

Some years later, after a couple of parties, a few successes, a loss of love, and the death of a friend or two, David died. They buried him on the banks of the Arno in view of the outdoor theater that he loved so dearly. Peter, a painter from Provincetown, planted a wavy line of black dahlias on his grave. It was shaped just like David the Snake when some time before in Siena he was in a hurry. Of course the dahlias are quiet and still except when their petals flutter in summer breezes. If you want to see David's dahlias, visit Florence in the evening, or maybe later on in July. David the Sculpture stands nearby forever in his frozen slingshot pose.

One possible moral of our story is, “Maybe it's OK to be a copperhead.”
Another: “Not all stories need to have morals.”

But occasionally some do. Snakes don't have to be scary, and anyway, people need to be rattled.
Do snakes have a sense of humor? Can they make people laugh?
Honestly, I don’t really know.

In the long run, metaphorically speaking—and I guess there's no other way--
Throughout our gypsy existence,
From times of Genesis to times of Frank,
Snakes are there if you need one--
Life's slithery frivolous friend.