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Meeting with a Viper on the Banks of the Brakrivier

A puff adder (Bitis arietans)*

I met a fine fat viper one Sunday,

barefoot on the banks of the Brakrivier,

desiccated at that early season,

we on our bikes, home far away.

Curled up tidy in the sun it lay.

It had little chance to flee:

I slew it, like Saint George, heroically—

delivering the final coup de grace

my Christmas-present hunting knife.

Later, back home in De Aar,

I pickled the snake in a jar of purple methylated spirits—I fancied myself

a natural scientist then,

like many a veld-despoiling man.

Aged eleven or twelve—this happened some seventy-three years ago—

overweening, I'd taken the adder's life.

I don't forgive myself the thing today,

even amid all the wars and murders of which you know.

We're stuck on Earth, it seems, trading guilt for strife,

attesting our uncognized right of way.

*"This species is responsible for more snakebite fatalities than any other African snake, due to a combination of factors, including its wide distribution, common occurrence, large size, potent venom that is produced in large amounts, long fangs, and their habit of basking by footpaths and sitting quietly when approached."—


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