The Rattle on the Tail of Things

by Madronna Holden (with accompanying art by David Wolfersberger) Issue: Spring/Summer 2019

"Navajo Nation Wetland" by David Wolfersberger
gallup, new meixco • searching in moonlit darkness for a suitable campsite i nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. kindle he-she rose up cobra-like and hissed and rattled so i could see him-her and avoid collision, but he-she didn't strike me though he-she could've done. 8am new mexico 14 july, a navajo nation wetland.

I can do my poet’s best
to invoke the rattler’s lithe body
on the cooling sand—to pacify her
with her own beauty.

But we would still have to
watch where we step.

There would still be that rattle
on the tail of things
that shamans follow
into the less obvious reality
circling this one.

And there is still
that panic some men feel
in the face of wild beauty—
toughening their skins
against it as if they earned
all the world’s scars.

Like those who replaced living forest
with a stumped land
where no shadow longer
than their own might fall.

The cedar has no way to protect itself,
but old stories from the Columbia River
tell how the rich-fleshed salmon there
have a little of rattlesnake’s poison
in their bite to warn off fishermen
who would take too much.



Madronna Holden

In addition to her collaborations with David Wolfersberger, folklorist and storyteller Madronna Holden's poems have appeared in the anthology, Dona Nobis Pacem, as well as in American Writing, Northwest Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Clackamas River Review, Fireweed, Green Fuse, Windfall, the Aurorean, Leaping Clear, Cathexis NW, with work forthcoming in Equinox Prose and Poetry, among others. The community production of her full-length poetry drama, The Descent of Inanna, was the subject of a special aired on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She is using her retirement from university teaching to focus on her poetry. More of her work can be found at

David Wolfersberger and his paintings are summer friends, sometimes seen walking the land as they feel and remember it and want it to be again, before fences, where people live and care for the earth and each other.  Watercolors he painted on his 3500 mile solo bicycle tour of the US West have also appeared in About Place, Leaping Clear, and Exposition Review, and are forthcoming in Equinox Poetry and Prose, Puerto del Sol and the Slippery Elm Literary Review.   More of his work can be found at