The following poems were written during my time as Artist in Residence

in the Cleland Wildlife Park. They question the basis for the universal fear of snakes.

 

“Red Bellied Black Snake”

 

Red bellied black snake
with rearing bluff displays
and flicking tongue,
its acrid breath
and slithering gait
evoke distinct and ancient
crimson nightmares.

 

 

 

Mesmerised

 

An overwhelming fear
of snakes
filled the room.

Even though the deadly brown
lay hidden beneath
the scrap of tin.

Like “Oh my God how gross”, escaped
their lips of those who came.
Except for James

and the volunteers, who would come by
everyday to refresh
the water bowls of the

turtles,
bilbies and bats.
But never the snakes.

Instead, the volunteers would
rub off the
buttery fingerprints

from the daily
explosion of
skittish children who

repeatedly knuckled
the glass as if to test
the snake’s reaction and

who vociferously
shrieked out to their
peers with a feverish zing…..

LOOK SNAKE!
But more out of excitement
than fear.

And even the visitors,
some from China,
India and Thailand,

stepped cautiously,
expecting one to rear up
from the undergrowth, hissing

beneath the eucalypt trees,
waiting silently,
defending itself.

Made me question
whether this universal
fear of snakes

called for yet another
Nature versus Nuture
debate or

was it embedded into
our genes, our culture
or religious beliefs.

An evolutionary adaptation
ensuring the survival
of the fittest.

An arms race
between snakes,
viruses and mammals

who supposedly developed
larger brains
and improved vision

in an attempt to
gain the upper hand and
avoid becoming snake food.

I pulled my chair
closer to the glass,
mesmerised.

Watching it thrusting its head forward,
flicking its
ferocious tongue

like intermittent pause buttons
as if it was planning
a military coup.

In wave like formation,
cold blooded, with the
accuracy of a drone strike,

extending  its head forward,
scraping its tail
against the battered tin,

concealing itself amongst
the detritus, as if it was its
natural habitat.

Mimicking the bellows of a concertina,
except it
was silent,

but for the sound recording I made of it.
Its scale scratching, grabbing the surface
with its underbelly,

like the treads of truck tyres
from open cut mine fields,
mirroring the patterns of snake skin found
amongst the sand dunes.

Slowly, ever so slowly,
as if both of us
felt the fears abate,

and maybe it was just of of boredom
that it would retreat to the back of the cage,
by the waterbowl,

I realised that
it was more afraid of me
than me of it.

Lois Turner 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to top