The Willow and the Snake

A modern-day parable for Oscar Brown Jr.

Working in a farmer’s field beneath a northern lake,
A tender-hearted woman sang while tilling with her rake.
She leaned against a wooden stump to earn a little break.
This is when she came upon a winsome copper snake.

She didn’t find him on the ground among the fallen leaves,
He wasn’t sick or injured – not as far as she could see.
From on high and looking ‘round he saw an opportunity,
So he fixed to slither down his stolid poplar tree.

Enchanted by his flicking tongue, the diamonds on his skin,
She paused enough to think about the things that might have been.
“I’ve seen that look before”, mused the serpent with a grin,
Methinks I’ve found another soul that’s ripe to gather in.”

“Hear me out sweet woman! I won’t take a lot of space,
I couldn’t help but notice the exhaustion in your face.
Listen to me woman! Permit me by your grace,
To share with you my special skill to win the human race.”

Then he told her stories that she didn’t like to hear,
Things that made her angry and preyed upon her fear:
“The others say they like you but their stories are all fake!”
“They’ll cheat you if you let them!” hissed the surreptitious snake.

He didn’t need to bite her for the venom that he spat,
Worked its way into her heart and poisoned her like that.
And so the tender woman’s heart turned cold and hard and mean,
She retreated back into her house and barred the window screen.

She didn’t trust the snake but then who else could she believe?
The only thing she knew for sure was that she had been deceived.
So when her limbs grew heavy and her sight began to fade,
She fell and no one noticed where her frozen body laid.

No one but the snake who coiled himself around her chest
And as he squeezed he said: “You know I really am the best!
I had you in the moment when you closed your tender heart,
I only had to cast some doubt and let you play your part!”

“You know it’s nothing personal that I plied my skill on you,
I am a snake and after all, I’m good at what I do!
Now I think I’ll swallow up your house, your car, your phone.
I won’t leave a trace of you, no solitary bone!”

“I’ll even take your broken heart and bury it outside.
I’ll plant it where some trees will stand in places you once cried.
In their branches I will hang in search of other prey,
And smile as I reflect upon your sacrifice today!”

Too late she saw just how the snake mislead her all along,
That he would somehow raise the weak by running down the strong.
With her final breath the woman voiced a humble prayer:
“Mother save my sisters and protect them from this serpent’s snare?”

The snake bought up the woman’s land once she had disappeared,
And set to plant a wall of trees at the edge of each frontier.
He broke apart the pieces of the tender heart he stole,
And joined each with the evil seed he stuffed in every hole.

From every piece of broken heart the serpent spread around,
A tree sprang up whose tender shoots would bend and fall back down.
Try as he might, he couldn’t climb the branches that he found,
For this is why the willow weeps,

And the snake stays on the ground.