Grandfather as a Boy Beneath the Floor
Their footsteps were an alphabet I  
did not understand as I waited 
  
below where my father told me  
to stay when the Americans came,  
  
to be quiet or they will find me  
and fill my head with voices.  
  
Because I did not want to have 
conversations with myself, 
  
I waited for them to leave, they 
who my mother said have mouths  
  
full of serpents. What did I know about 
the language of a reptile? What words  
  
do they have for witch, orchid, lizard? 
I listened to how the mouth can be  
  
its own animal, expected snakes  
to fall from them and find me hiding  
  
in the dirt so they could strike  
my heel or thigh. I would have taught  
  
these snakes to catch rats instead, how to  
retrieve eggs without swallowing. 
  
The only snakes I knew lived in trees  
where these men must have fallen from. 
  
They must be the same tall men with red eyes 
I’ve caught looking into my room at night. 
  
I have heard them swallowing chickens 
before I sleep. When they came trying  
  
to convince my father I should follow them,  
the heads of roosters were still in their jaws. 
  
What is the sound of a boy  
in the dark? tik-tila-ok. 
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