“Snails lead slow idyllic lives . . .”
The rose and the laurel leaves
in the raw young widow’s yard
were littered with silver. Hard-
ly a leaf lacked the decimal scale
of the self of a snail. Frail
in friendship I observed with care
these creatures (meaning to spare
the widow’s vulnerable eyes
the hurting pity in my gaze).
Snails, I said, are tender skinned.
Excess in nature. . . sun rain wind
are killers. To save themselves
snails shrink to shelter in their shells
where they wait safe and patient
until the elements are gent-
er. And do they not have other foes?
the widow asked. Turtles crows
foxes rats, I replied, and canned
heat that picnickers aband-
on. Also parasites invade
their flesh and alien eggs are laid
inside their skins. Their mating
too is perilous, The meeting
turns their faces blue with bliss
and consummation of this
absolute embrace is so
in coming that love begun
at dawn may end in fatal sun.
The widow told me that her
husband knew snails’ ways and his gar-
den had been Eden for them. He
said the timid snail could lift three
times his weight straight up and haul
a wagon toy loaded with a whole
two hundred times his body’s burden.
Then as we left the garden
she said that at the first faint chill
the first premonition of fall
the snails go straight to earth . . . excrete
the lime with which they then secrete
the opening in their shells . . . and wait for spring.
It is those little doors which sing,
she said, when they are boiled.
She smiled at me when I recoiled.
from Isabella Gardner: The Collected PoemsFind it in the library
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