Emerging from the softly shining marble that was once the communion railing in a monastery of Benedictine women, Eve balances the unbitten apple on a plump and polished knee. Her marble skin glows faintest pink as if washed by earliest light or lit by a secret she’s holding inside. She has a teenager’s face, hair cut in junior-high bangs in front and wild as sea waves in back, and half-closed, dreaming eyes. She takes for granted the snake curled blissfully around her, taking her warmth, her shape. Eve and the snake know each other, and are not afraid.
It’s taking my hands
more than fifty years to unlearn
one indelible summer lesson.
This I remember: three little tow-headed girls
Wandering in the dusty pasture between our house
and the woods
breathing in the pleasant heat
the sharp sweet smells of clover and of manure
drying in the sun.
We found a treasure
a burnished curve in the dust
a silky rope
mysterious and delightful to hand and eye
and picked it up and ran
to where my father worked in the field.
Almost blind, his hands
grown huge with the effort of seeing,
he held it close to his one good eye.
A silky rope? The snake’s eye
open in death
Thinking to protect his little girls he flung it far
across the summer pasture
a coppery arc shining in the sun.
In its place grew a stale terror
as twisted as the tale of Eve
and the snake
the first unmaking
I’ve touched snake skins since then
dry and papery as words
and followed snake trails through poems
but my hands are lonely for the silk
of scales placed just so
and my body
imagines its sinuous
Reprinted with the permission of the Liturgical Press, the Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota, from Divine Favor: The Art of Joseph O'Connell. Editor, Colman O'Connell. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, c1999. CSB, SJU and SJP Libraries Oversize N 6537.O265 D58 1999.