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27 Apr

Manu and the Snake

Manu and the Snake: A Tale of Woe

[Thanks to ‘my Consultant’ Valsa George; ‘Inspired by' Prof Manu Mangattu]

 

Bri Edwards

 

Bri Edwards (1950- ), a native of Eureka, United States, considers himself a jokester who is often serious. He has served as a delivery truck driver, a day labourer, a hospital aide, an operating room technician, and as a USPS window clerk. Most of his poems have been written post 2004, the year when he retired. He loves to write lines that rhyme and delight the reader. He enjoys bird watching, walking, talking, and writing poetry. He confides that he is not a man of few words. “Manu and the Snake” wrestles with the theme of pain yielding pleasure in poetry. Set in a typical Indian village scene, the poem explores the pleasure-pain principle from a different angle. The poet wishes to place on record his gratitude to his Indian consultant Valsa George for her assistance with Indian idioms and clichés, and to the chief editor of this verse compendium Manu Mangattu for “inspiring” him to write this poem.

 

'Don't forget to take your school book today! '
[Manu's mum sent him off to school; HE'd rather play.]
He took his book, and his tiffin box, filled with sweet lunch curry.
He started out slowly; Manu was in NO hurry.

He passed the neighbours' homes in his Indian village, 
and passed the water well with its sign: 'No spillage! '

Do this. Don't do that. (Manu disliked rules.) 
'When I grow up I'll move to Mumbai! I'll not stay with village fools' ….
[He THOUGHT. He dared not SAY to 'Mummy'!]

Four kilos he had to walk ….to his little school.
But Manu knew a wooded shortcut; he was NO fool.
His mum had warned him to not 'short cut', for goodness sakes.
'Manu, don't go into woods. It's full of hungry snakes! '

But Manu knew better than his mum. Yes he did.
He'd heard that in the daytime, all the snakes were hid.
And if they were hidden, what would be the danger? 
He'd be more concerned if he met (in woods) …..an 'evil stranger'.
[Manu was NOT afraid!]

As he walked along an animal trail through the wood, 
he thought: 'If I skipped school I could fish. I could! '
He might even go into the stream to enjoy a swim.
Soon ‘skipping school' became a reality, NOT a whim.

Manu did not know that, though snakes may HIDE, 
they might want to catch a boy to put INSIDE …..their bellies! 

He caught no fish; he had no hook, no net, or any trap.
After an hour of wading and swimming, Manu took a nap.
Awaking, he set out to where he could watch the school path.
[He almost forgot to gather up his tiffin box and his book (Math) .]

He had no clock, so he went to watch for students coming, 
…..returning from school. As Manu walked the woods he was humming.
[and hearing birds in the treetops]

He was not paying attention to the trail and tripped.
A fallen branch across the trail? A knife, into his leg, ripped.
But NO! Not a knife, but many needle-sharp snake teeth.
And then Manu fell, pinning a huge snake beneath …..
him.

But not the whole snake remained beneath him. Oh, no.
Two coils soon surrounded him, followed by more coils, more SLOW……ly.
Manu let out a shout, though there was no one to hear.
The teeth still held tight, bringing to his eyes warm tears.

So far the serpent held him snuggly but not TOO tight.
With his wiry body, Manu struggled. He struggled with ALL of his might.
He'd once seen a goat suffocated by just such a snake, 
and he remembered the goat's death; not very long did it take.

HE shouted once more. Then Manu SEEMED to give up …hope for good.
He wished now he'd gone to school that day. He would now ……if he could.
It wasn't that he was a very bad boy. Most often he was good.
He wanted to see his mum again. He'd confess all to her; he WOULD! 

He wished to see his papa too, his brothers, and his grandmum.
He even wished to see his sisters, not as much …but some.
Would the snake begin to eat him? Before Manu was dead? 
These thoughts and many more …..went streaming ….through his head.

The snake, meanwhile, had some thoughts of its own.
'Stupid boy' it thought. 'He came through the woods alone.
NO other children did such a thing. This boy isn't too smart.
But I'll let him live longer. I like feeling the beating of his heart ………
against my smooth, dry skin.'

Manu could see his Math book, lying open near his head.
He vowed aloud he'd be the best student, IF tonight …..he was not dead.

He wondered what his mum would serve for an evening meal.
He even wondered: 'Could this really be happening? Is THIS snake real? '
[The snake was real indeed, and the biggest one he'd ever seen.]
'Why is this snake doing this to me? Why is the snake so mean? ! '

And the snake thought: 'I'm really not too hungry now.
I was planning on a piglet for supper, not a boy ….big as a sow.'
But she [the snake was a female] did not release Manu yet.
She thought: 'I'll hold on longer. A piglet I may not soon get.'

Yes, the snake was in no hurry to eat. Few people walked the trail.
She eyed the boy. She unclamped her jaws. She twitched her tail.
But her coils held Manu to the ground, though not tightly.
Manu thought: 'To be swallowed by a snake would …….surely be unsightly.'

He thought more of his family now, and of a few friends at school.
If he survived he was sure some of them would call HIM a fool.
He would not like that, but he'd like it more than being dead.
All this, and many other thoughts, filled his young boy's head. 

Nighttime came. He heard no voices; no rescuers appeared.
The snake held on; the boy was hungry; his approaching death he feared.
But he slept, though fitfully. He emptied out his bladder.
He imagined his papa would be sad, and his mum even sadder.

The snake, meanwhile, had thoughts of her own: 'What a silly boy! 
To teach him a good lesson, I think, LONGER with him, I'll toy.
SHE napped some as well. [Usually she'd prowl for prey at night.]
Once she heard a tiger, but it passed her by, out of sight.
[A full grown tiger she had reason to avoid. It had sharp claws and teeth, …..
unlike the weary human child, wrapped in her scaly sheath.]

As the sun's rays began to filter through the wood's canopy, 
it struck the boy's eyelids. He opened them and he could see …….
that the serpent was coiled round about him still.
Manu wanted to struggle, but he no longer had the will-
power.

'How long will this creature, so cold, toy with me? 
Will no one come looking for Manu, and set me finally free? '
These thoughts and others he had as he lay on the ground.
And, to his surprise and disgust, flies began to buzz around ….
his mouth.

His mouth was dry, and it was open. To close it, he was unable.
He wondered: 'What breakfast does my mum serve at the table …….
to my DEAR siblings? 
[Yes, the longer he suffered, the more dear ….his family did seem.]
'Will she be serving warm rice porridge, with a bit of cool cream? '

The flies entered his mouth, and his nose, and even his ears.
And soon other small scavengers came, …..increasing his fears.
A large millipede crossed Manu's cold clammy brow.
'Please, God', Manu prayed, 'release me. Release me now! '

But he was not released. No, it wasn't Manu's 'time' yet.
He wished for some raindrops to fall, his parched lips to wet.
Instead, the sun, as it usually did, started to heat the woods.
'If somehow I escape alive', he prayed, 'I'll FOREVER be good.'

He thought of his papa, Kanav, and of Seema, his mum.
He thought of Ayman, Ashwin, and Subash [some].
Would sister, Savita, get her wish to move to the U.S.? 
Would brother, Rajesh, someday be a priestly confess-
or? 
Would sister, Valsa, write poems and be a profess-
or? ? 

Would his family miss him? Would his teacher remember? 
[All the while, in those coils, Manu was feeling like a…..
dying ember.]

The snake was aroused by the sun's heat, and felt NO …..boy's heartbeat.
Now was its time to make a decision. [To eat or not to EAT ….the boy?]
She had eaten a smaller boy once, including one leather sandal.
The snake decided that the boy was MORE than it cared to handle.
Besides, it really wasn't terribly hungry. A large rat would do ….well enough.

So the coils released the boy's body. The snake slithered away.
The scavengers took over from her. And the snake started her day.

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