Serpent Heart

Youna Fradin

Just as my spine is a snake skeleton, my heart is the way that it coils. When I am frightened or startled, I wrap myself into a ball, tucking all of my odds and ends into an impenetrable mass. But what distinguishes this response from a roly poly perhaps or an armadillo is the way a snake sticks out its neck. Even in the face of a large threat, the snake will hide its body while baring its tongue.

It is this duality that I find within myself: the search for safety (hidden body) while leaving space for vulnerability (extended neck) and maintaining a defense (open mouth). At first glance, this seems an effective method to ward off harm.

Can you please look at my severed head?

I am only human. I am told I am intimidating and impenetrable. From those who manage to break past the barriers, and tuck themselves in my coil, I am told I am caring, but too forgiving. And for those who make me feel unsafe, I am told I have a barbed tongue. Within a balanced defense, there is no balance to be found and I am left with an evertightening body behind a neverending hiss, unable to let go and unable to let in.

Can you please hold my armored body?

On my stepfather's farm, the sun brought the black rat snakes. They carved the grass in glistening ropes and I felt an awestruck fear at the way their movements caused ripples across their scales like a line of well-placed dominos. My stepfather showed me how to touch them. The trick is that you grab them by the tail and pull them up, before they have the chance to feel fear. And then you move your body in time with theirs. You learn how to dance together and, with that trust, the coil loosens, the neck shifts, the tongue only flickers.

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