At first, it was a snake
looping up over rocks
down into the muck again.

But no, a rope from the junkyard:
nothing but trash
freed in the flood
to settle in the crook of the Big Sewickley Creek.

Dad grabbed one frayed end
pulled twenty-five feet of soggy jute onto the shore
shifting shale in the creekbed
scraping and scuffing flat rock against flat rock.

We walked the field
where neighborhood kids ran obstacle courses
seventy pounds of muddy serpent coiled around his shoulders
the tail left dangling for me.

He slung it up into the maple
with pipefitter hands he knotted it
secured it
around the strongest, longest limb
turning litter to treasure
at the foot of my backyard
seeing ahead to late August
when cicadas crescendo
and street lights flicker on
his daughter swinging
until the grass underneath
is nothing but dirt.

Jessica Whipple