Thursday, April 23, 2009

L. Mikel Vause: "I've Always Feared Rattlesnakes"

And so have I.

* * * *

I had two classes from Mike Vause as an undergrad at Weber State, one on Sherlock Holmes, the other on literature of exploration. He's also a good friend of my father-in-law. But I didn't really know he was a poet. I will say, however, that after reading the poems he's published in Weber Studies, I think he's a better essayist than poet. Nonetheless, I'm highlighting "I've Always Feared Rattlesnakes" because I think it's the tightest, most fresh of the available online set (other poems here, here, and here). That and it references running. I am, after all, a poet and a runner.

I like how the title can also serve as the first line: "I've always feared rattlesnakes, / That trowel shaped head, / Bulging eyes and lethal fang" (title-line 2). I like how the poet doesn't hesitate expressing his fear with the strong, violent image of a dreamt bite "so hard [his] leg would break" (4) as the snake, agent of this violence, coils nearby to "watch [him] die" (6). And I appreciate the irony that the poet's fear of dying---"If you dream you die, / It means you will" (7-8)---is in a sense subverted in the death of his runner neighbor, the one who believed "If you want to live, You must run" (19). Well, apparently Harold ran a lot and still died.

The real irony of the poem, however, centers in the fact that, no matter what we believe or fear about rattlesnake bites, running, living, and dying, death comes to us all. And we leave things behind, the most important of which, I think (and this is justified in the poet's focus on time spent with Harold and on who Harold left behind), are the relationships we forge, the legacy we leave in the lives of our neighbors and our families. These are the things that show us how we lived; these are the things that, in the Mormon view of the cosmos, we take with us when we pass.

Moral of the story: run, don't run; fear rattlers, don't fear them. But love, ah love, as Matthew Arnold said. "Let us be true to one another."