Three by


Al Maginnes





Devils and Snakes

         — for Emily and Jamie



There are worship places, tucked deep

in the elbows of back roads, where worshippers

raise snakes as emblems of faith.

Twisting copperheads and timber rattlers

slide from one hand to another,

but it takes trust deeper than blood

to receive a serpent from the grasp

of a stranger. Things go wrong.

A snake might strike the hand of one

who’s lifted a hundred of its kin.

More than one preacher, aflame

with temptation, has used his snakes

to be rid of an inconvenient spouse

or the husband of a woman he’s decided

he loves. The devil, after all, dwells everywhere

and snakes are only one of his handtools.

In Sunday school, the snake was our villain,

Judas’s backbone, the Snidely Whiplash

of Eden, a seductive tongue singing of

the salvations buried in flesh, in bourbon

or cocaine, paradises made to replace paradise,

pleasures grasped more readily than

eventual deliverance. A swaying girl holds

the snake’s body, her being beset by grace

as she feels it twist against her prayers,

brings its face close to hers. She would die

for the snake’s kiss. And because she would die,

the snake becomes her devil. The things

you would die for, those are your devils

and snakes. And they wait in coiled bodies

for you to know them and give them a name.






Considering Beatrice



There is no single golden Beatrice.

It takes a long time to live a full life

and each year brings its own store of regrets

and joys. Walking four blocks offers faces

fair or less than fair for you to reject

or recall forever. By the day’s end

most will have been erased to make room for

another you might consider worthy

of an epic poem. In the front porch sprawl

of final years, the old lovers come back,

unblemished as they never were in life,

but matter as much as the woman

still sleeping who never asked for a poem

but makes sandwiches just how you like them.









How many times have I missed something

my daughter or wife told me or lost

the thread of some meeting because

I was wandering an endless museum

of the imagination or was wondering the name

of an oriole at the window? When

the pitcher unwound and released the ball,

I was staring down the first base line,

my swing too late and too low.


It would be a few years before I learned

the art of observing the moment. Now

that my body is a corrupt wagon

of aches and broken parts, I might

pay attention enough to hit the ball.


That chance is gone, the way something

unsayable is lost when my daughter asks

“Did you hear what I just said?” Even

if I can repeat it to her, we know I’d gone

missing from the world that is always

here, no matter where I am.









Al Maginnes has published four chapbooks and nine full length collections of poetry, most recently The Beasts That Vanish (Blue Horse Press, 2021).  Recent poems appear in Lake Effect, MacGuffin, Xavier Review and American Journal of Poetry.  He lives in Raleigh NC and teaches at Louisburg College in Louisburg NC. 



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