by Jess Williard (Honorable Mention) Issue: Spring 2018
Willowweed and prairie aster box each other out
for better sun at valley side, where swimmers 

haven’t flattened things with their wide towels
like sails towing profiled bodies across the still-flat 

earth. A red-tailed hawk leans into the mistral wind
and blinks, turning its head to look only

in the direction it isn’t headed. And on the trail 
that leads from the Slushie vendor’s wood-paneled 

stand you can catch the heel of a boy step 
into a copse of ferns. There, he coaxes a snake

into an empty chip bag with a stick.
It is lean and brown, the tongue flashing out

like a small flame. He folds over the top of the bag
and shoves it into his backpack. And though, 

on the bus ride back, the bag is stowed beneath 
his seat and he begins to nod off, what he’s 

wrenched from when the snake punctuates 
its hours of blind prods inside the zippered pouch 

with a single, Hail Mary bite, is not exactly sleep; 
he’s been wandering soy bean fields at dawn,

parsing sense from thick clouds of mist 
hung at his knees—he’s looking for something

to bring home to show his family. It’s almost gentle,
the way the chalk-white fangs push through 

the canvas and sink into his foot. Almost slow.
Imagine Achilles stumbling into a fountain 

with that limp-legged hobble, his incredulous 
fall to the water, pulling the arrow from 

his foot, inspecting its head as if it had been there 
all along and should be replaced. Imagine him 

putting it back into his heel. If in weakness 
there is indeed some kind of absence, it is only

to welcome things in. The boy doesn’t cry out 
as he’s bitten, or shift the bag. He’s lifted

from his dozing, then put back. Barely a witness 
to himself. This will be the day he brings

something home worth showing, exciting his sister 
to a supreme thrill that sees her dance 

in the driveway and be carried by her blind 
and trustworthy feet. This will be the day 

that slows enough for him to catch and know, 
finally, its one possible meaning.

Jess Williard

Jess Williard's poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, North American Review, Colorado Review, Southern Humanities Review, Barrow Street, Lake Effect, The New Orleans Review, Sycamore Review, Bayou Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, Oxford Poetry, Booth, and other journals. He is from Wisconsin.