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Naga

by Katherine Riegel

Then issued Mucalinda, the serpent-king, from his abode, and enveloping the body of The Blessed One seven times with his folds, spread his great hood above his head, saying—“Let neither cold nor heat, nor gnats, flies, wind, sunshine, nor creeping creatures come near The Blessed One!”
—Buddhist Writings, Translated from the Maha-Vagga

“Ts! Ts!” said Kaa, weaving his head to and fro. “I also have known what love is.”
—Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

  • We rode serpentines in the dust
  • of the arena, training both rider
  • and horse in the art of bending.
  • I never thought then of
  • snakes, the silky creatures I found
  • fascinating and my sister loathed.
  • I didn’t think of symbols, either,
  • ancient shapes meaning
  • protection, healing, immortality, nor
  • of inevitable encounters
  • with the serpents hiding
  • behind zippers, like all snakes
  • preferring private places.
  • And when I mowed
  • the lower pasture, my sweat
  • coalescing in the breeze, the tractor
  • rumbling beneath me, I didn’t worry
  • for the poor garter snakes under the long grass
  • (though I do now, those maligned
  • and thankless animals whose voracious
  • appetite for grasshoppers and June bugs—my own
  • phobic plagues—serve humans so well). No,
  • I just got bored
  • with straight lines, big and little
  • boxes, so I turned and turned the wheel,
  • making serpentines with grassy scales,
  • great looping serpents swallowing their own tails
  • over and over under the sacred sky.


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