Ully Hirsch/Robert F. Nettleton Poetry Prize Award Co-Winner

No one screamed

when it coiled around the radiator pipe,

skinny and white like a protruding vein.

No one stood on a chair.


It was 7 a.m. and you were about

to drive us to school,

your wicker hair gathered

in thick swarms around your head.


Someone get me the phone—you hissed a whisper

as you chained your eyes to the smooth intruder

that flaunted its pitchfork-tongue.

Robby ran to the kitchen and we stood,

the hardwood freezing our feet to the floor.


Dad was halfway to work,

told you to go to the mildew-sopping basement.

Dig out the old shovel.


I watched the white trespasser

while you ran to the cellar,

aligned my pupils with its two red beads,

longed to grab its darting pink tongue in my fist.

Did it know? Could this silent beast hear

the manic siren rising from below?


You plucked it off the lacquered pipe with tongs,

rust-caked shovel in right hand,

squirming coil with blood-drop eyes in left.

You were not my mother

as you kicked the screen door open,

threw the baby demon to the hard dirt,

aimed the shovel’s dull edge at the ground.


We didn’t mention the pearly head

on our way out the door,

cut-diamond mouth gaping at clotted leather stump.

We weren’t even sure

we saw the spasm.