The boys scuff dust
through the floor of the bridge.
They know which girls hang out underneath
combing each other’s hair, smoking cigarettes.
Deaf to catcalls and whistles
several girls wade the shallows along the pilings.
The wind lifting their skirts,
stirs the willows
that have grown along the bank
for as long as anyone can remember.
The youngest boys catch a grass snake
sunning itself on the railing.
One of them holds the snake up by its head.
It is still alive.
Two of the girls step out
from under the bridge to get a look.
One says, Bring it down here, Johnny.
The boy swings the snake.
He keeps swinging until its body
rips off and lands in the river.
The girls stop swatting gnats
with their willow switches
and watch the body swirl in the current.
The girl with the best view
says something low to the others,
takes a drag on her cigarette
letting the smoke drift out through her nose.
The rest of the girls start laughing.
Still holding the snake head, the boy
throws it as hard as he can at the willows.
All that summer the girls
hole up under the bridge
chain smoking, teasing each other’s hair.