A viper lived in Johnny’s house, so
all in the family understood
that they must watch their steps although
the snake had not struck — they knew it could.
One day Johnny ventured to query
why they kept a serpent at home;
he asked his father, who seemed leery
of responding: "Go and ask your mom."
Mother had her hands full but, busy
with her chores, she looked up from her desk:
"Every house has a snake, young Johnny,
Our home is just like all the rest."
Johnny’s curiosity unslaked,
he asked his father once more:
"Why must we keep a venomous snake?
Why can’t we just kick it out the door?"
"Listen, boy, it’s not wise to wonder.
From the earliest days of mankind,
everyone’s had a viper or another
sort of snake: people say they’re divine."
Johnny knew well that his own parents
viewed the snake as some species of god.
They sang hymns to it at special events.
When the snake hissed, they’d pleasantly nod.
At home, they surrendered a great deal
of their food for the snake to consume.
His big fangs he scarcely concealed
as he lay coiled in their dining room.
Mother fancied the snake had brought them
prosperity and good fortune;
it fostered their health and their vim;
to their income it gave a great boon.
Father deemed that the snake kept away
even worse snakes from down the river,
so the nasty viper ought to stay
in the house for protection delivered.
But for Johnny, all excuses fell flat,
and he dreamed of the day he would slay
the disgusting, menacing serpent that
distressed him by night and by day.
So he sharpened the hoe with a file
till its edge was as keen as could be,
and he waited in silence a while
for twilight, when the snake could not see.
Then he swung down as hard as he could,
and he sliced off the head so neatly
that the snake scarcely scented the blood
that gushed from its body completely.
To everyone’s great surprise, it seemed,
the day dawned as bright as before:
security reigned and prosperity gleamed
and no menaces came to their door.
The viper, they now realized, had
been evil all right, but unneeded,
and his absence made everyone glad.
Johnny’s bold stroke entirely succeeded.
Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. His most recent book is Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy. He is also the author of Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan.