welcoming the snake
lunar new year, 2001
In the driveway of the New Century Hotel
All traffic halts
As three small men, one with a ladder,
One with a graceful bamboo pole,
And one with a fourteen-foot string of explosives
Arrange a garland for the festival.
They loop and drape and balance each element
As other artists of joy might build a tower of cake,
Or dress a bride-to-be–just so. Then, out of a huddle,
They conjure a flame that flares, catches,
And leaps the red spine, exploding, exploding, exploding,
Tearing the air to violent rags of noise.
Smoke boils upward, heaves skyward,
Then remembers and bends, downward, slowly,
Filling the road, driving a thousand terrified ghosts before it.
The appalling racket echoes in the gut
Of everything alive for blocks around,
And the world is as clear of evil as it will ever be.
Then a wide silence descends like an unexpected gift,
And people get on with their holiday,
Their visits and feasts, and the just-in-case
Honey smeared on the lips of the household god.
Relatives cram the sidewalks six abreast,
Innocent in bright new shoes and clothes the color of luck,
Happy to share the streets with anything auspicious–
Detonations and drums, lions and dragons,
Even a snake, beautiful this one year out of twelve,
Its favor worth currying.
Today it sets itself up in the public squares,
A sinuous creature fashioned of silk,
Traveling upright on the back of a tortoise,
Amazed to find itself welcomed with eager arms,
Respectable now, after so long a wait,
Its sly eyes cunningly wired for light,
Gleaming, ready–lucky, lucky at last.