The Snake

In third grade, my friend drew a picture of our teacher Miss M. as Eve nude
Extending an apple to her fiancé Terry (as Adam). A crude snake with tongue
Forked ogled at the couple from the left hand side of the paper. Both figures
Were decorated with generous helpings of pubic hair around detailed genitalia
Denoting this as a moment before The Fall. My eyebrows lifted when she showed
Me during recess. Another girl sang I can’t believe she drew their bushes!
Like she’d seen a rainbow for the first time. As I stared at the picture,
Marveling at its biblical accuracy, I revealed my stupidity by saying
I don’t see any bushes? And the kids, a larger group now—the boys joined— 
Gathered laughing, quite thrilled at my stupidity for not knowing slang for
When pubic hair gathers en masse, or the slang for anything sexual. As I looked
At the drawing again, it registered that the only items resembling a shrub or clump
Of shrubs with stems of moderate length
was that hair. Seeing the penis, breasts,
Armpit hair, and all that bush angered me. I wasn’t sure why.
Our teacher was recently engaged, and due to this announcement,
Her potential for nakedness was thrust into my friend’s artistic imagination.
Not a wonder that this was Miss M’s only year teaching at our school.
At the beginning of the academic year, she’d asked the parents to choose
One word to describe their children. My parents chose amiable to describe me.  
With our words we made mobiles about ourselves which dangled from our classroom
Ceiling lights like fine jewels. Words hung like stars.
Another day, I stood in the back of the room pulling ropes at an elaborate learning station
On Newton’s Laws when some older kids wheeled in the TV set.
It was January 28, 1986.
We screened the live broadcast the Space Shuttle Challenger takeoff.
We stared with mouths open as a teacher from nearby New Hampshire shot
Into the sky. A camera zoomed in attempting a steady view. But soon the smoke
Was a misbehaving white hot snake dividing
And curving in billowy streamers away from and also toward our Earth.
Pillows of smoke bloomed against the clear blue.
Miss M pushed the “off” button as tears pooled down her cheeks.
There’d been some mistake. I craved my parents. 
They could explain what happened on the TV set and the crying teacher.
Miss M. talked about the disastrous accident, but I did not understand.
I really believed she wanted to show us something horrific.
Hand us some kinda fruit. In the back of the room,
I pulled a rope & yet another rope descended
Holding a clue about causality for my worksheet on Newton’s Laws. 
Was Eve supposed to eat that fruit or hand it to Adam?
She was supposedly created in afterthought to keep the men from loneliness.
Banishment from the garden was not equal. It was not opposite.
Some middle schoolers arrived to push the TV cart away.

My friend was suspended for a few days from school for drawing hair
And some sex organs. For expressing some vulgar truth.
When she returned days later, she was quieter and wore ruddy cheeks.
She did not invent the apple or the snake.
She did not invent bare breasts or the shame of nudity and sex.
Or the likeness of Eve to Miss M.
Or the likeness of Miss M. to Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.
A teacher exploding and splaying across the screen into smoke
And into the Atlantic Ocean was another sort of nakedness.
This was a greater shame.
What did McAuliffe know about being a teacher, an astronaut, or a mother?
All that knowledge offered to Eve in an apple was now not even snaking
Through a toilet to clean out somebody’s shit before it flowed into an ocean.
God told Adam that if he ate the apple he would die.
And I guess that’s the truth.
I snapped my pencil in half under my desk just to know
How it would feel to break
In my hands.
Just to know the sound.

Amy Lawless is the author of the poetry collections Broadax and My Dead (Octopus Books). She is co-author of I Cry: The Desire to Be Rejected, a collaborative, hybrid book (Pioneer Works Press, Groundworks Series). A chapbook A Woman Alone is out on Sixth Finch. She lives in Brooklyn.