she has married a rattlesnake
she has never returned
she has married a butterfly
she has fallen; she is falling
she knows the jumprope rhymes by heart
she tries her luck she speeds she swoons
she says a girl needs a gun these days
she knows all the words to that song
* * *
So there’s this little poem.
This week’s assignment was to take a myth of the native people of the area in which I live or work, to tell the story, and to talk about how I fit or do not fit within the story.
Quickie caveat: you all know by now my thing with the “I” being more persona than autobiography.
So I’ve found two stories, as referenced in the poem’s first stanza. The first story is from the Pomo, “The Girl Who Married the Rattlesnake.” The second story is from the Maidu, “Tolowim Woman and the Butterfly Man.” In both stories, the “she” marries someone who isn’t quite human. I don’t want to speculate (wrongly) on what the lesson to be learned in each story is supposed to be, so I stick with each story’s specific details.
The first line of the second stanza referernces the jumprope rhyme, “Cinderella dressed in yellow went upstairs to kiss her fellow; make a mistake and kissed a snake.” A snake, or his snake? We girls always tittered at what this could possibly mean. It’s cautionary advice. What better way to inculcate young girls with cautionary advice about kissing men’s snakes and guidelines for proper behavior than through these singsong rhymes, recited during girls’ playtime.
Now as for the final three lines, these reference the Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song, “Rattlesnakes,” from the album of the same name. I’ve always loved the women in his songs. They’re brash, and tragic, and beautiful. Some of them are trainwrecks. Some of them are femme fatales. Some of them are feminists. Some of them are all of the above.
“She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront
She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance…”