American Rattler by Anna Kander

Extreme and Vicious Dangers of the United States

“a federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a ‘restraint chair.’ The family of one man who died after being forced into the restraint chair was awarded more than six million dollars… The family of another man killed in the restraint chair got $8.25 million… after the discovery of a surveillance video that showed fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating the prisoner, and after the sheriff’s office was accused of discarding evidence, including the crushed larynx of the deceased.”

—evidence against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio,
pardoned by President Trump on August 25, 2017,
as reported by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker



the American rattlesnake is shedding its skin
revealing another layer

sticky with newness and sharp-edged with scales
the same, deathless serpent

brown-on-brown like a Western Diamondback
winding beneath cracked earth

with each molt, the snake adds a segment to its rattle
sloughing skin into wads of dead keratin

dragging shed skins like history or taken scalps
inconvenient and noisy


from 1993–2016, in Maricopa County, Arizona
Sheriff Joe Arpaio reigned over four million

proclaimed his jail a “concentration camp”
in his custody, a hundred men died

on surveillance video, Scott Norberg slurs, dehydrated
barely conscious, strapped to a “restraint chair”

as fourteen police officers
shock, beat, and suffocate him to death

but the good ol’ sheriff excused them all
and now the president has pardoned the sheriff

when lawyers started to investigate Scott’s death
the sheriff seized Scott’s body

and the evidence of abuse—Scott’s crushed larynx


a larynx, also called a voice box
resembles a rattle segment

pyramidal and hollow
without them, you can’t make a sound

i picture them: rattle segments
strung like stanzas

sound the warning


i picture them: larynxes
strung like rattles

pieces of victims
like tin cans clattering after a car

someone celebrating
a marriage of evil and convenience

and mr. and mr. complicit
a polyamorous affair:

there’s Joe and Little Donny
Mitch, Ryan, and more

maybe back to Adam
a circle-jerk of snakes

in business suits and fig leaves
paired with power ties:

red like apples, silks slithering on pinstripes
or leather restraints on chairs

when Adam reached for his irresistible fruit
did that serpent rattle, too?


imagine—me, the serpent
my body, a closet dragging skeleton

surviving years between meals
you can’t starve me out

horses and cattle know:
you will have to trample me

your voices like rattles

until then, you fools—


Anna Kander is a writer in the Midwest. Her work is published or forthcoming in journals including Gnarled Oak, Leveler, and Train. Find her at