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N O V E M B E R   1 9 9 9

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by Laurence Lieberman

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Secret despoiler of herds,
he works by guile and cunning. Noiseless,
with hardly a flicker of overt motion in attack,
he starves the calves by siphoning off -- in shrewd calm,
that numbing soothe and hypnotic caress -- the milk of mothers . . .
The slithering boa glides through knotholes in pine boards, barely
rustles the dense haystack it pierces, and comes up under
the half-asleep cows to stroke their bloated udders
with gentlest forked-tongue lappings; bovine
light sleepers that might be blasted
from a lull of slumber's

trance by least skirry
of field mice brushing their forelegs
or tails, now drawn from sleep into uttermost
removes by this gentlest slurp & suction, baby calf's
touch never so rhythmic and lightly stupefying. Mother cows
cannot know how it is that they're swiftly milked, O resistlessly
depleted and robbed of their throbbing loads. Amazing it be,
so small of mass are the boas, but they can engorge
their swelled tubular length to nearly double-
thick expanse of their normal girth
with the imbibed milk,

as if they've swallowed
a whole litter of baby rabbits, coons,
or possums in a few gulps -- as well they might.
A boa's whole body is a throat. Its brain is so far
uptunnel from its tail, one end ignores the other's limits --
stuff, stuff it in: that's the only message! Then, lumbering away
like a gluttonous skunk or possum that has supped on twice
its body weight, the boa drags its overstuffed yards-
long belly, then burrows under the haystack
to hiddenly sleep off its gorged daze
of satiety . . . The farmers,

distraught by those false
milkings, freakish drainoff of prize
cows' mammaries, guess the culprits. They sweep
sharp-edged machetes through suspicious long bulges
under barnstraw, a wavering or trembling of the haypiles
as if the hay itself took breath: insucks & outflows, faint wave
motions rippling across low flat haystack is the giveaway . . .
Cutlass slashes dozing snake's milk-pouchy innards,
clipped sides twitchy like two live offspring --
but no, they're dying severed pipe lengths
stunned into a death dance.

Laurence Lieberman is a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana. His poem in this issue will appear in his twelfth book, Flight From the Mother Stone,to be published next spring.

Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1999; Love Nips of the Boa; Volume 284, No. 5; page 63.

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