July 27, 2006

Poetry Thrusday- July 27th

I realize that the rules at Poetry Thursday are a bit lax, but this week I am stretching them to their limit. Instead of a poem, I have submitted an excerpt from a short story I have been working on forever. The theme this week is food, and I have stuck with that, well sort of, and I really want to share it with some readers. I promise not to be so lazy next week and drop the prose for the more conventional poetry. In my defense, please remember that good prose should be poetic and conjure the same imagery and emotive quality as a well-written poem.

Here is a little haiku about mangos as an appetizer:

saffron robed teardrop
all elbows and soft breast skin
i suck out your juice

Here is an excerpt from the yet untitled story:

One could argue that a vegetarian, who feels the need to butcher a snake and eat its heart, may be a hypocrite. But aren’t we all trumped by our weakness and failures occasionally? How long are we expected to be lead on the leash of our making? How long before the animal inside each one of us is no longer threatened by the vows and rules of morality with which we construct the bars of the cages we trap ourselves in? My cage had become stifling and my mission that night was to finally allow the beast freedom, so I chose to not only open the door wide, but to deconstruct the very idea of the cage I had built. I chose to no longer fight the creature I had spent years subduing. I chose to no longer deny its existence. I chose to surrender.

My actions and experiences, from the time I could remember, had always been crafted into plots, stanzas, and scenes. Something about a vault of stories, deposits in a sense banks made me feel like I was living life the way it should be lived, not with regret or hesitation, but with honesty even if that honesty proved to be illusory. I needed experiences, because I liked the idea that years later, while exchanging small talk with people I detested at cocktail parties I never wanted to attend, I could say that I had eaten a cobra while in Vietnam. This single act would make them realize that there were people in the world living much fuller lives than their own. I lived life for the stories it presented, and for the satisfaction it gave me knowing that I was not only the reader of these stories, but also the writer.

“Do you know a place that serves snake?” I hadn’t heard my voice since the morning, and it sounded foreign, as if it had been initiated from a place outside of myself, and I was merely being used as a conduit to transmit its message. “A restaurant? Snake heart?” After first acting out the beating of a heart beneath my shirt, I then let out a hiss and did my best to slither.
After a few consultations, the price negotiated, and the directions written down, I was on the back of a bike rocketing out of the Old Quarter of Hanoi, and headed across the river, over a bridge to a web of alleys and dissolving streets. With eyes closed, I held out my arms like wings or a crucifixion and smiled.

Once again my quixotic expectations and the actuality of the environment were inconsistent. Where I wanted a sordid space, a den of debauchery, I found a quaint restaurant with a friendly, well-dressed staff. I made my way to a chicken wire pen filled with fifteen cobras and another with pythons. The cobras averaged six feet apiece.

“You choose snake.”

An old man wearing pink faded shorts and nothing else, poked the pile of reptiles, smiling at me through a set of incomplete, blackened teeth. Hopping from side to side like a recently rewarded ape; he seemed pleased that I was there and sharing this experience with him. He gestured for a cigarette furthering our newly formed bond.

“How much are they?’ I asked. With my voice still coming from outside, I did a decent job of corralling a semblance of a reality. I chain-lit another cigarette and examined the snakes, conscious not to get too close because, however disjointed everything had become, I was aware they could kill me.
While driving over on the bridge, I had been content to die, but I was having second thoughts when so close to the very beings that could administer that sentence.

“Cobra, four hundred.” The animated man was holding one by the tail as it swung back and forth like the wooden toy snakes sold in every Chinatown the world over. I took a drag of my smoke and leaned back; the snake was in striking distance. I exhaled a pillow of smoke and pointed to the less sensational pythons entangled in the other pen.

“Three hundred!” He was wielding two snakes, one in each hand.
“I’ll take that one,” I said, pointing to the six-foot cobra inches from my face, “and a beer please.”

From that moment on, the man was all business. The strings that had him bouncing like a puppet were severed, and his smile vanished as he pounced on the snakes head, pinning it to the ground. Brandishing a large rusted knife, he pierced the snake’s smooth skin, deflating it in the process. He made a three-inch incision to its underside into which his fingers disappeared, revealing themselves moments later with a small lump of flesh. It was red, beating, bleeding, alive. The rest of the animal lay on the ground like a discarded sock, a redundant silhouette.

Next, he punctured the dying animal again, this time a bit lower. I was surprised to see him still gripping its head tightly. Was he afraid it could still attack? Even with its beating heart sitting in a bowl near my feet. He emptied the serpent of a green fluid, while showing off his gap filled smile. Comparing the rhythm of the snake heart with my own, it was difficult to tell which one was pounding with more fervor, the muscle thrashing for life, or the hysterical one watching it fail.
A young waiter wearing a crimson bow tie quickly led me upstairs to an empty but pristine dining room. A table was waiting for me: ice cold beer, ashtray, fresh basil, onions, chili peppers and a variety of sauces. Seconds later, the heart and bile were brought to me with an empty shot glass, and another glass filled with a frothy red liquid on the tray. Instructed to put the heart into the bile and shoot it down, I grabbed my chopsticks and attacked it.

It jumped. It was still alive. I tried again and again and again, till I finally had it pinned between my two sticks. Plunging it into the green fluid, I took a sip of water and downed the bile, heart and all. Eating its flesh wrapped in spring rolls, and its skin deep-fried I drank its blood, a warm creamy juice, much like milk. The beast within began to slither from its cage. I was disappearing, and soon it would take over and the Hanoi night would be its playground. The sun had set and darkness enveloped the city.

Author's note: As always any critical comments are appreciated


  1. I really liked your first line...it pulled me in. The idea of anyone eating a snake heart, even more shocking of a vegetarian.

  2. When it JUMPED, I think I would have JUMPED out of there and not even ate it! Eeeccckkkk! How about just eating some lucious grapes instead? lol Yes! I would have ran out of there so fast like a wild horse looking for a fruit stand to get my grapes and then to a bakery to get a nice big chunk of chocolate cake with gooey icing dripping! MMMmmmm hmmmmmm, maybe I am inspired to write a poem! now myself! Thanks maybe! because I might not! but I really liked your story, I could visualize it all! It kept my attention which is hard to do sometimes!

  3. There were essentially three, immediate and instictive responses to your short story that I had.

    The first conjured up images of a vacation I took to Peru a few years ago and realized that cuy, a delicacy, was actually guinea pig.

    Second, I remembered stories I heard of the practices cannibalism among certain warrior cultures that believed by ingesting the heart (or various organs) of an enemy, you also ingest its power.

    Finally, I half expected the speaker to have a change of heart, to see the snakes writhing in their own cages and feel an affinity with them and rethink his decision.

    With all that being said, did this experience really happen to you? The only reason I asked is because some of the details you included were great. For some reason the image of the snake handler holding the head of the snake, even after it removed its heart stuck out in my mind as a great example of this.

    I also found it interesting how you depicted the snake handler, how your descriptions operated both consciously and subconsciously on me. I only mention this because I've been examining the politics of sub-titles in the media and how/when sub-titles are used. The description of "hopping from side to side like a recently rewarded ape" was an interesting one, I'm curious what made you chose that?

    All in all, I had a great affinity for this story, especially the introspection of the speaker in the first few paragraphs, especially the comment "I needed experiences, because I liked the idea that years later, while exchanging small talk with people I detested at cocktail parties I never wanted to attend..." Boy, I have been there more times than I'd like to remember.

    Great work! I hope the comments helped somewhat!

  4. Superhero,

    Yes this did really happen to me. Pretty much as I have described it. I have obviously tried to add some craft and drama, but I have not made anything up, so you be the judge as to see if it is fiction or not.

    As to why I called the handle an ape? I have no idea. Where do the lines we write come from. I distinctly remember the man acting in that fashion. Seeing that human beings are apes, I often see very similar movements between our species. It was not meant to be derogatory, if that is why you are implying.

    Also I mentioned that this is an excerpt from a longer piece. I would love for you to read the whole thing and give me some comments. Let me know if this interests you. Please do not feel obliged, I know that people are busy and we haven’t the time to read every story some stranger throws at our door step, but if you want let me know and I will send it to you.

    That goes for anyone eels who reads this excerpt and would like to see how it fits into the larger story.

  5. Next time on Thursday, write about a good restaraunt.

  6. Strange comment Renegade Eye.

  7. Hey there. First of all, I don't think it's lazier to write prose than poetry. So no need to apologise for that. Secondly, both your haiku and your prose are excellent. I adored the sensuality of the haiku, short, but oh so sweet, and the taste remains with you.

    Your story I found absolutely compelling. As a relatively new Vegan, I can still totally understand that compulsion, to let the beast out of the cage. One couldn't exist without the other in a way. I like the no holds barred, right there detail, and the sense of movement in the story, it ends where it feels it should. And yes, I'd like to read the whole thing. I had a feeling that this was a real experience. It shows.

  8. I would be glad to read the rest of the story, I am curious how it fits into the much larger piece.

    By the by, I didn't mean to insinuate that I thought you were being derogatory about your description, I have just been on this deconstructionist kick, lately, trying to get at the "meat and potatoes" of how we see other people, is all.

    Feel free to send the larger work onto my email address:


  9. damn, but you are a god writer..I read this aloud to my husband and he sat, still and attentive to the end.