Fear of Snakes

The snake can separate itself

from its shadow, move on ribbons of light,

taste the air, the morning and the evening,

the darkness at the heart of things. I remember

when my fear of snakes left for good,

it fell behind me like an old skin. In Swift Current

the boys found a huge snake and chased me

down the alleys, Larry Moen carrying it like a green torch,

the others yelling, Drop it down her back, my terror

of its sliding in the runnel of my spine (Larry,

the one who touched the inside of my legs on the swing,

an older boy we knew we shouldn’t get close to

with our little dresses, our soft skin), my brother

saying Let her go, and I crouched behind the caraganas,

watched Larry nail the snake to a telephone pole.

It twisted on twin points of light, unable to crawl

out of its pain, its mouth opening, the red

tongue tasting its own terror, I loved it then,

that snake. The boys standing there with their stupid hands

dangling from their wrists, the beautiful green

mouth opening, a terrible dark O

no one could hear.

Lorna Crozier, “Fear of Snakes” from Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence. Copyright © 1988 by Lorna Crozier. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Before the First Word: The Poetry of Lorna Crozier (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005). 

Dive in: 
  1. This poem is rich with complicated emotions. How does the "fear of snakes" of the title transform into another feeling about snakes?
  2. What is the main metaphor in this poem? How is it used to describe the speaker’s experience?
  3. There are many references to duality in the poem, where experiences and descriptions can have at least two different qualities. Can you list these examples of "twinning"?
  4. What does the poet do to make this memory feel present?
  5. There are some long lines in this short poem! In reciting it, pauses, building, and breath are very important. It is a "building" poem, where images and experience pile up on each other. Where would you choose to pause in the poem to let the previous line sink in for the listener?
  6. Think of a moment in your childhood where your understanding of an animal or person - including yourself! — transformed due to getting to knowing them better, or to an experience. Write a poem that focuses on the flashes of that memory in the form of descriptions of the place or sounds or colours, feeling free to play with present and past tense.

Useful Links

 

Here's a beautiful short film that dramatizes the poem, and includes a reading of the poem: https://vimeo.com/19539825

Here's Lorna Crozier giving a writing prompt for writing a poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=97&v=109aMgtUVXY

A choir and orchestra perform a piece by Lorna Crozier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=FbOjlbm5d0U

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