Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Juana Adcock

Serpent Dialogues (extract)

Serpent Dialogues (extract)

Serpent Dialogues (extract)

When the woman realised the snake was scared of her too, she went back to the balcony, where she’d at first mistaken him for a spool of brightly-coloured rope. She lay down on the ground there and waited, watching as fear took hold of her body: whirlpools of sickness through her limbs, sweat like black ice, her breath sprinting ahead of her and her inability to catch up . She kept wanting to flee, her ears full of fabricated rattle-hiss, but she remembered the way he’d flashed out of sight, back into the encroaching wilderness as soon as she’d taken a step too close. The thought of the snake being afraid somehow helped her stay put till lunch . He did not come back that day, but she decided to repeat the ritual every morning at the same hour. To give him time, even if he needed a thousand years, allowing him to make all the decisions. She lay always in the same spot, on her side, still as a mountain, her hip pointy as a snowy peak . The snake watched sideways, from a safe distance, and slinked a little closer each day, trying to work out if the woman was a threat.

A long time passed before she was able even to unclench her jaw and allow sound to come out. When she finally did, she asked all manner of absurd questions, and the snake, to her surprise, responded.

WOMAN: Snake, what do you think of monotheism? Since everything is holy, I mean

SNAKE: Men – humans – need to organize everything. Messages need to be packaged in an intelligible way for them, otherwise they’d be lost

W: That’s why the Mass is didactic in structure, like a theatre play, is what you’re saying

S: Yes, but the sacred element is also built through repetition. Repetition is much loved by men

W: You don’t dislike it either, since you come here to see me every day

S: It’s nice on this rock

W: There are countless others to choose from

S: What about you, why are you here every morning?

W: Gives me a good vantage point .



Footnotes

1. Who were you? Why were you given my name
since the mountains
rose up in revolt?
Why was I given yours with a mouth
tinged in fire?

2. Even long after my death
I want my desire
to coil around your body
like a snake

3. Look at this old postcard from Tibet.
Mountains were taught to us as the picture of stillness.
But the chaos that went into making that shape
is still pushing
up, up

4. The balcony a liminal space,
carved from the side of the mountain,
both outside and in. Like what separates
night and day: a purely intuited border.
I thought there were no thorns there, but then I saw
the barbed fences had been sowed into the earth like rows of corn.
Exoskeletoned soldiers on the wealthside,
AK47s at the ready
Close

Serpent Dialogues (extract)

When the woman realised the snake was scared of her too, she went back to the balcony, where she’d at first mistaken him for a spool of brightly-coloured rope. She lay down on the ground there and waited, watching as fear took hold of her body: whirlpools of sickness through her limbs, sweat like black ice, her breath sprinting ahead of her and her inability to catch up . She kept wanting to flee, her ears full of fabricated rattle-hiss, but she remembered the way he’d flashed out of sight, back into the encroaching wilderness as soon as she’d taken a step too close. The thought of the snake being afraid somehow helped her stay put till lunch . He did not come back that day, but she decided to repeat the ritual every morning at the same hour. To give him time, even if he needed a thousand years, allowing him to make all the decisions. She lay always in the same spot, on her side, still as a mountain, her hip pointy as a snowy peak . The snake watched sideways, from a safe distance, and slinked a little closer each day, trying to work out if the woman was a threat.

A long time passed before she was able even to unclench her jaw and allow sound to come out. When she finally did, she asked all manner of absurd questions, and the snake, to her surprise, responded.

WOMAN: Snake, what do you think of monotheism? Since everything is holy, I mean

SNAKE: Men – humans – need to organize everything. Messages need to be packaged in an intelligible way for them, otherwise they’d be lost

W: That’s why the Mass is didactic in structure, like a theatre play, is what you’re saying

S: Yes, but the sacred element is also built through repetition. Repetition is much loved by men

W: You don’t dislike it either, since you come here to see me every day

S: It’s nice on this rock

W: There are countless others to choose from

S: What about you, why are you here every morning?

W: Gives me a good vantage point .



Footnotes

1. Who were you? Why were you given my name
since the mountains
rose up in revolt?
Why was I given yours with a mouth
tinged in fire?

2. Even long after my death
I want my desire
to coil around your body
like a snake

3. Look at this old postcard from Tibet.
Mountains were taught to us as the picture of stillness.
But the chaos that went into making that shape
is still pushing
up, up

4. The balcony a liminal space,
carved from the side of the mountain,
both outside and in. Like what separates
night and day: a purely intuited border.
I thought there were no thorns there, but then I saw
the barbed fences had been sowed into the earth like rows of corn.
Exoskeletoned soldiers on the wealthside,
AK47s at the ready

Serpent Dialogues (extract)

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère