Ouroboros (and other poems)


I find myself in a political debate with a timber rattlesnake slithering out of the fescue. It asks me if I believe human beings should be afforded special privileges and rights based on their perceived sense of superior consciousness. I say I’ve never considered the question before, which is not true. I’ve contemplated many permutations of this question, just never in relation to snakes. The snake rears up pensively and shows its fangs. I can see a gossamer droplet glimmering on the tip of one of them. I don’t recall now if it was the left or the right. Of course you haven’t, says the snake. Its voice uncannily similar to my father’s. So I ask him if he believes snakes are ultimately destined to eat their own tails. That’s a wicked stereotype, he says, and I confess I can’t answer his question without looking too much like an idiot. Just so, the snake turns and slithers away into the grass as I feel my jaw unhinge and my body contort toward my feet.


The father says, You’re my best friend. You know that, right?
The son says, Yeah, I know. You’re mine, too.
The father says, I love you.
The son says, I love you, too.
The father says, More than anything in this world.
The son says, I know. Me too.
The father says, I need to tell you something.
The son says, Okay. What is it?
The father says, Please, just hear me out. I need you to know this isn’t your fault. 
The son says, I know.
The father says, I don’t know what to do about it.
The son says, Me neither.
The father says, What would you do?
The son says, Don’t ask me that.
The father says, Why not?
The son says, Because I’m not you.
The father says, Aren’t you?


One night I looked at my cat and found I had the ability to comprehend language the way it was intended instead of what was actually said. In meows I could tell he was saying, I care not for your existence. When my wife said, It’s fine, I knew what she meant was, I need more help. I texted my best friend, I miss you, and he sent me back Same, bro, which I somehow knew meant I want to say I love you but can’t without too much consternation on my part…It’s just the way I was raised. I tried to apply my newfound power retroactively to the things my father used to say, and I came to some startling conclusions. I found that his words were untranslatable, that the memories of his utterances defied my power and I had to make up what he meant based on what he said, which meant that I had to inhabit his mind, which meant that I had to get progressively drunker and meaner. And I didn’t want to do that. My power, as it turned out, was short-lived. 


Inside my father’s safe there is a forest of broken pines. Inside the forest of broken pines there is a letter written to me. Inside the letter written to me there is a wet heart. Inside the wet heart there is an orchid. Inside the orchid there is a grasping hand. Inside the grasping hand there is a shot of bourbon. Inside the shot of bourbon there is a concrete goose wearing a bonnet. Inside the concrete goose wearing a bonnet there is my only memory of my grandfather. Inside the only memory of my grandfather there is a plastic tumbler. Inside the plastic tumbler there is a solitary frog. Inside the solitary frog there is a headlamp. Inside the headlamp there is an urn. Inside the urn there is a mattress laying by the creek. Inside the mattress laying by the creek there is my father’s pistol. Inside my father’s pistol there is a flip flop covered in sand. Inside the flip flop covered in sand there is a fractured tibia. Inside the fractured tibia there is a gallon of milk. Inside the gallon of milk there is my son’s toy truck. Inside my son’s toy truck there is forgiveness. 


  • Luke Wortley is a writer living in Indianapolis, Indiana. His fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in monkeybicycle, Hobart, Best Microfictions, Pithead Chapel, The Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere.

  • Images are from a library of "killed" images from the 270,000 photographs commissioned by the US Farm Security Administration to document the Great Depression. The images were "killed" by having a hole pinched through the negative, for reasons explored by Erica X. Eisen in her article, "The Kept and the Killed" in Public Domain Review. https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/the-kept-and-the-killed