There are 15 snakes on me, tattooed in brilliant greens and blues, each with its own specific and varied role and personage. They are vipers with vitality, alive as me, writhing lovely on my pale soft belly, lying across each rib as if they were descending stairs. They are meant to protect me, and I know they do, as they were born from pain and fairly grievous bloodshed, as the hot center of the body is an unforgiving place to tattoo.

I have earned these slithery guards and paid for their watch in pure suffering, every scale and forked tongue pricked into me with gritted teeth and a storm of fevered sweat.

I love snakes because I fear them, their bodies setting off alarm all throughout my psyche. The way they move fills me with dread and delight in equal measure. I watch them drape themselves over tree branches or coiled around rodents and small prey, swimming effortless in murky water and my fascination is horror and wonder mixed.

In an effort to conquer my phobia and satisfy my snaky lust, I attended a rather comically large reptile and amphibian symposium, a gathering of herpetologists and their limbless entourages, as well as numerous fans of these cold blooded creatures, mostly teenaged boys and eccentrically inclined belly dancers.

In a cavernous echo chamber of the convention hall, neat rows of tables carried an impressive array of snakes and lizards, chameleons and frogs, literally thousands of them, stacked nearly to the ceiling in see through plastic cake boxes and each bound with a dirty rubber band. giant bowls filled with hairless pink mice spilled over onto the dusty floor and their oddly naked tiny bodies would be haphazardly crushed into bloody sludge by the stampeding feet of near hysterical reptile and amphibian admirers.

Mealworms, angrily stored like grain in miniature silos sat at each table, on offer as plainly as any other starch. a vendor scooped them into ventilated bags and these writhing knots would be casually tossed into rucksacks and even over shoulders.

The whole of everything smelled of fish but also oddly of fowl. The scent permeated my hair and clothes. People surged in front and behind me, each with snakes of varying hue and size adorning shoulders and falling down backs. A pretty young woman held a nest of baby snakes in her gently cascading honey blonde hair, their tiny heads appearing and disappearing into her temples and crown, arranging themselves over her delicate ears like the ornate arms of designer sunglasses.

In this snaky universe I had no choice but to let my fear and ferocious love run together and immerse me. I surrounded myself with the snakes and felt their force, created by bad biblical press and myth and mystery. I overran my senses and burnt out my assumptions. I let the snakes be snakes and no longer allowed them to frighten me. I recognized the beauty in their forms and shed my own skin of uncertainty and became like them, shapeshifting and infinite.

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1 Comment.

  1. Love this, Margaret! I’ve always wanted to go to a reptile convention. But having been in enough pet stores that sell reptiles, I can say that fish/fowl is the perfect description of the scent that comes from the cages. I’m a lizard lover myself. How disturbing about the pinkies. If I ever get a snake, I’ll just get the frozen ones and use tongs…

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