Cottonmouth

 

by Ben Kline

My father would test our honesty with five dollar bills

he hid in odd places, including the leather volume

 

of Shakespeare’s complete works kept on my desk

in which hid my large rubbers and paramour numbers.

 

He wanted to keep us true by default despite

my lean into vice after learning five card draw

 

from a priest who claimed a bluff is not a lie, just

strategy like Ronnie’s star wars or Iraqi WMDs.

 

I excelled at most tests, yet had no use for winning.

I enjoyed tactical thinking and always left his money

 

where I found it, maybe shifting it to the next sonnet

or slid under corn flakes instead of raisin bran.

 

He used to threaten us with the paddle if caught

lying about something too simple to be worth the sin.

 

I appreciated his perspective, that context had scale

beyond cards, even if my ethics were a fat cottonmouth

 

lurking at the gush end of a culvert, waiting for mice

swept loose when a surprise downpour flooded the barn.