Tina Barr


His length splayed on the trail’s black-bottom
he turned, opened his mouth, white inside: 
cottonmouth. My friends, who grew up 
in Memphis, said he’d track us, come after, 
so we backed away. 

                                At lunch, Shelby tells me
her mother died when she was twenty-one, father
gone. In the living room, a cop, her uncle, and
a lawyer, who slid a piece of paper across the 
coffee table. She didn’t know what she’d signed. 
Ten years later, she tracked down the officer
who’d been called to the house. I remember, 
he said into the phone, she was murdered. 
Shelby went to Memphis, but when he’d sat 
down across a coffee, the cop denied it.  

all learned to spell Mississippi, before we’d left 
second grade, that rhythm, in three segments 
of sound. The river I roller bladed beside so 
swollen trunks were five feet deep in it. But 
in spring white filaments, tufts, banked its slope: 
cottonwood. Another name I read before I saw it, 
like cottonmouth.

                             What came out of the cop’s mouth 
was padded in lies. Shelby’d signed away the state’s 
request for an autopsy. My pet boa, Artemis, never 
hissed, just lunged from her tank at my hand,
left the imprint of tiny teeth, a bruise in the fat
pad at my thumb’s base.  

                                        In Libya, we’ve already
tested robo-dogs. On spiky feet, roughly the shape
a kid would make from an Erector set, Spot can trot
in packs, sensors attuned to hearts pumping, breath.
A warm yellow, four legs, body, an upright head,
armed, ready to take aim. For police units, they’re 
superman blue.