Lines for the Jewish New Year

The dark of the moon. In my email inbox a series of photos, forwarded from someone in Texas, of a rattlesnake disappearing head-first into a black snake as if into a tailor-made Gehenna. It was, of course, dead, its molecules about to live again inside a new & sleeker skin, acquired in the opposite manner from the usual reductionism. It must’ve been a long, slow process. In the last snapshot the black snake is alone on the ground, as fat as a dirt-bike tire & unlikely to coil anytime soon.


The ceiling is better than the floor. I lie on the couch & gaze longingly at its immaculate meadow, trackless, free of dirt. White as a cloud that will never spill its snow. Good cover for disembodied spirits, which are, if anything, pale and fast-rising as steam. But this isn’t a fantasy about death, it’s a dream of stasis. Halfway to slumber, I watch a question assemble itself in my semi-conscious mind: Do elegance & purpose have anything in common? It startles me back to wakefulness. Of course, I want to say — but if it’s as obvious as that, where did this doubt come from? In Genesis, when things emerge from primordial vapor they are already “good” — the Creator has little or nothing to do with that, other than to see that it is so.


Sounds are muffled in the thick fog, & the autumn leaves seem to glow from within. A maple tree across the driveway supports two, competing narratives: the original, candelabra-shaped leaves, and the three-in-one leaves of the poison ivy that has parasitized it. They have turned an identical shade of orange. Fog swallows distance, and for some reason this makes time seem less pressing as well. You travel through it & your pool of awareness travels with you, like a reader through a scroll where every line gives rise to new reams of exegesis. But at some, seemingly arbitrary point, you can’t go on without dropping to your knees and begging forgiveness of the ground, which you have so thoroughly taken in stride. The fog says, you can only walk in circles. You are already home.

9 Replies to “Lines for the Jewish New Year”

  1. I’m glad you titled this as you did, Dave; the title casts the whole piece in a different light than I think I would have perceived had the title been something more pedestrian.

    I read those opening lines of Genesis in the kids’ service I led today, and marveled at them again. I love that, in this story, God sees goodness from the very start of creation. Of course, I want to see good in everything, so it figures I’d dig that kind of thing.

  2. Evan – I gather that it’s not uncommon for black snakes to kill rattlers. And given that they swallow everything whole, I guess it must be no problem. But you’d think it would make them vulnerable as hell to predators.

    T-morph, Jo – glad you liked.

    Rachel – It started out as a political/economic metaphor, but halfway though I realized I wanted to do something more cosmic. (It’s not like there aren’t any other bloggers covering current events!)

    It’s interesting that the same stories that give fundamentalists a license for their views can also inspire hippies like us.

  3. Huh! I’d thought, at least in Missouri, that eatin’ vipers was the province of king snakes alone. Interestin’. I like thinking of kittens dispatching young copperheads. I wonder how a black snake/king snake manages it. The lack of a flight response in vipers, or at least their slowness to flight, does make them vulnerable to a thinking predator, or at least one with an unfolding strategy, i.e. not a quick pounce.

  4. I was just about to do a snake eating post (that’s to say the snake doing the eating, not being eaten…)

    These are very lovely, very melancholy, and elegant too. I’m a little unsure about purpose and elegance; yes, purposeful things are often elegant, but I feel one could live an elegant life without any need of purpose…

    (thanks for smorging me!)

  5. The lack of a flight response in vipers, or at least their slowness to flight, does make them vulnerable to a thinking predator
    Good point. We don’t tend to think of poisonous snakes as vulnerable, but maybe that is an Achilles’ heel of sorts.

    I feel one could live an elegant life without any need of purpose…
    I’m pretty sure that’s true. I don’t qualify myself, but I can think of one or two friends who might. And as a disciple of Chuang-Tzu and Lao-Tzu, the idea of “a purpose-driven life” fills me with mild horror.

    Thanks for reading, y’all.

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