Tag Archives: lay on a hill-top

Love, mortal peril, la dee da

Last week, on a day which erred on the “harried” side of the Harried-O-Meter, I went to lunch with my friend Hardy. Since he had his car with him at our place of work–hosanna!–we were able to wander further afield than usual, lunchily-speaking, and ended up at Irazu. But this blog is not about Irazu, and the good times had there. This blog is about:

a. Poisonous Bites
b. The Power of Love

[If I were real hardened I would say something here like, “Six of one, half a dozen of the other!” or “Poisonous bites and the power of love are the same thing!” and then I would throw an empty bottle at the ground, but I am not real hardened, so I will not.]



When Hardy and I were driving back from lunch, we were having a general discussion about doctors. This progressed–as discussions with Hardy often do–into a random magical story, the telling of which was concluded in the parking lot outside our building, and which nearly led to my lying down in the parking lot and dying: an affect random magical stories stories often have upon me. I practically have to carry an EpiPen around with me some days, to inject myself against my violent reactions to random magical stories. Hardy’s story began thusly: “It was worse than the time I was stung by a scorpion.” “Wuh buh la la lee lee lee?” I said, and I asked him to continue.

Hardy’s story takes place in Kenya, where he was good-doing. [He’s a good one, Hardy.]  One night, in a room lit only by the flashlight he held in his hand, Hardy watched as a scorpion crawled into a bag containing all of his clothing. “O GOD HELP ME” thought Hardy, or such as that. He gathered a batch of newspapers, rolled them up into a “death machine”, as it were, and killed himself a scorpion. As he did so, the scorpion–with its dying breath, I suppose, though I know little of the respiratory systems of scorpions–stung Hardy in the finger, because it was a little ingrate scorpion whose mother never loved it.

For a few seconds after that, Hardy felt nothing, aside from a slight pinprick sensation during the actual sting. “Perhaps that’s all there is to being stung by a scorpion,” he thought, and then his legs gave out and he collapsed against the wall and his hand “felt like it was on fire” [here Hardy took his hand off the wheel and held it aloft as though it were, in fact, on fire], and the fiery feeling started going up his arm and his chest hurt! So! “So it’s poisonous?” I said. “It’s a neurotoxin!” said Hardy, brightly. Anywho, he went into the next room–where the rest of his group was gathered–imparted the details of his situation, panic ensued, they all took off running through the desert [really] to find this missionary doctor who was traveling with them–I mean, good NIGHT, nurse! The doctor gave Hardy medication and talked him down, in a scorpion variation on “Take two of these and call me in the morning.”

The next day, Hardy woke to the world slowly. He could already feel the pain hammering away at every part of his body, hammer hammer hammer, hammer and tongs. As he opened his eyes, he saw the doctor crouched over his body, literally waiting to see if Hardy was alive.

“Oh, good!” said the doctor, and walked away.


When Hardy told me this story, it reminded me of another poisonous bite story, one from the ol’ “family vault.” I visited my grandmother in Missouri at the end of March; the following is something she told me while I was there. I don’t know how I survived so long without knowing this story, or how I made a life for myself, or got out of bed in the morning.

The tale takes place in Missouri, on the small farm of my great-grandparents, during the Great Depression. [Why don’t ALL of my stories start like that? I’d be a MILLIONAIRE.] My great-grandmother, pregnant at the time, was picking berries [really] outside their little home, and my great-grandfather was working in the fields. And along comes a snake–slithering along like butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth!–and bites my great-grandmother in the leg. She screamed–wouldn’t you?– and my great-grandfather, hearing this, ran to her aid. And do you know what he did?  Do you KNOW what he DID? He took out his pocketknife, cut the bite open, and sucked the poison out of her wound.



She would have died, no doubt, so it’s a good thing that her husband was the most awesome human being alive, a claim I dare anyone to dispute. Truly, it’s thrilling to think that I’m descended from someone who would do that. I hope that I would do the same, if my husband was bit by a snake while picking berries. “Hold still,” I hope I would say. “That snake poison is going to wish it was never born.”

“Um, why were you picking berries?” I might add, but not until I was sure that he was out of danger.

In the past few years, I’ve fallen into the habit of noting certain acts, and saying of them: “That’s love.” Of this story, I would say: that’s love. That’s what love is. A pocketknife! So help me God, a pocketknife.


We were very tired, we were very merry–
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable–
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry–
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Edna St. Vincent Millay


Filed under Edna St. Vincent Millay, Poetry