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Rattlesnake Bones, Claire Cortese

You can hear the marrow clatter around in the hollow porcelain canisters like marbles in a tin can.

The children play dice in the streets.

Smoke billows dark slate gray from chimney trees and falls to the ground like weighted oxygen.

It pads the bottom of the children’s feet until there is more soot than skin.

The serpent coils around your leg and flicks his forked tongue against your thigh

like a dying streetlamp on a damp foggy evening, where the only color is the dim, ugly yellow of typhoid.

There are seventeen different kinds of rat living in homes, sewers, and even hats.

You can hear them clatter through the pipes, like the rattle snake bones, and the marbles in the tin can, and the dice in the street that fall out of the children’s hands.

The ocean sits nearby, breathing tar and shaking her head, coughing waves onto the dark ash sand beach.

She watches you, and the land, and the rats and the children and the rattle snake bones crumble.

She says you should have listened to the moon bodies.

Instead, you shake your bone-bag body, feel the serpent inch up your thigh, and place bets on the dice, which only ever roll snake eyes.


Claire Cortese was born and raised in rural New Hampshire. During her undergraduate studies, she received the Richard M. Ford Writing Award for Nonfiction, and the Frederick Hyde Hibberd ’88 Scholarship Award for Poetry from the University of New Hampshire. She received her M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Durham in England.

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