Never poke a Gila monster.
Even though he's slow,
pokin' at the bloke'll make him mad,
not make him go.
He’ll take a bite 'n hold on tight
'n casually chew.
He'll slowly grind his poison jaws
and this is what you’ll do:
you’ll quickly wish you hadn’t poked a slowpoke,
now, won't you?
He'll dangle from an ankle or he'll hang off of a toe
cuz a Gila will not kill ya, but he will not let ya go.
Festooned with this reminder of your rudeness,
you will scream
and wish you’d poked him only in a horrifying dream.
So if you see a Gila, let him go his own slow way.
Who am I to tell ya? Why, I'm
Ol’ Nine-Finger Jay.
About this poem: I live in the Sonoran Desert, one of the only places in the world where Gila monsters can be found. But they don't WANT to be found. These Halloween-themed lizards are nocturnal, which keeps them out of the hot sun. In over ten years, I've only come across ONE in the wild. And no, I didn't touch it!
Everything about Gilas is adapted to a hot, dry environment, from their burrow-dwelling lifestyle to their big bladders that help retain water to their fat-storing tails that provide energy when food is scarce. They eat small mammals, birds, other lizards, and eggs, and their many sharp teeth angle backwards so once they get ahold of something, letting go isn't really an option. Oh, and they conserve energy by moving veeerrrrryyyyy sssllllloooowwwllllyyyyy. I started thinking about what might happen if someone poked one to make it go faster, and this poem came along.
For more info on these slow-moving monsters, go to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Gila monster page.
Ms. Betsy's oldest surviving poem is one she wrote in the third grade. "Down in the Sewer" didn't make her popular, but it made a small group of loyal fans very cheerful. Some of the latest poems she's written, "Poems of Galapagos," appeared in Cricket Magazine's July/August 2020 issue. She hopes they'll reach a wider audience than her first poem did, and make more people cheerful...and possibly provoke some thoughts, as well.