Snake’s Belly Turned Over

A yellow thing in the sun
tried to brown it
it resisted with the energy of fangs
it rolled over more than once

but the sun persisted with this strange
desire to make all things one—elemental again;
it tried to create frenzy in the snake’s heart,
lungs, entrails

Snake refused to die despite the wound
despite being confounded : it remembered being able
to moult, how it could change colour like the rainbow;
how, too, it could try to hoodwink the sun

But sun knew everything from the beginning
sun surged with a new attack, thinking
of blending with snakeskin, snakeanger—
a mouth widened,
fangs jutting out
whipping tongue-like

At night the sun called
upon the moon; but the moon was aloof as always—
nothing much happened
Snake waited with a ceaseless energy,
breathing heavily

Sun was ready to sing its swan song above
snake’s head; but the lungs covered with the pulp
of flesh and blood, refused to be tricked—
a hissing music surged forth. Snake knew its limit
despite the sun—

and the shadows skirted everywhere, the moon
displayed patterns in the dark, the leaves
hung low, filigree scattered in air; water
coruscated ripples. Sun remembered. Snake crawled out
one last time, heaving a body, bedraggled—how much longer;
and it began to swell after a while

          bloating against an angered sun

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Snake’s Belly Turned Over”?

Seeing a dead snake lying on the ground—the belly turned over—and the natural world that’s before you in a bare tropical environment with the sun beating down on you: it was what first inspired the poem. Other images came to me as well, a cluster of things, from the world I grew up, all providing me with inspiration perhaps. I just allowed my mind to go back to the past, it seems.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Snake’s Belly Turned Over”?

In “Snake’s Belly Turned Over,” the sense of the dead snake on the ground unconsciously became the form itself…the poetic form, yet not too contrived. The whole as one stanza suggested itself to me, and after, maybe, the sense or shape of the snake seemed to be there, if only in the first draft before I dismissed it from my mind and focussed on weaving other images associated with a snake-world, and the snake’s energy—elemental energy as a whole, I think—with everything also being symbolic, I believe. Symbolism plays a great deal in what I write, I figure. Also, the line-lengths vary throughout the poem—I didn’t want to make things too straightforward: I wanted a certain underlying naturalness here.

This poem “Snake’s Belly Turned Over” originally appeared in Caribbean Connections. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 95 (Winter 1982): 65-66.

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