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.


Katherine Riegel’s first book of poems, Castaway, is due out from FutureCycle Press in November. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including Crazyhorse, the Cream City Review,, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida, is poetry editor for the online journal Sweet: A Literary Confection, and lives in Brandon with her husband and three dogs.