June 30, 2021

Why Snakes are Always Female, By Jennifer A. McGowan

Editor’s note: This read is unexpected, charming, and celebrates the natural world. It’s a lot of fun, and I was delighted to be able to buy it, thanks to generous donors! Jennifer has been published in EC since 2012, and I was happy to see her work again. (KW)

Once, on the edge of the wild, wild wood,

a princess lived in a kingdom with no old women.


Crones were said to live in the wood, sly and subtle

as snakes. They were seen dancing skyclad on hills,

kidnapping unwanted puppies and kittens;

sometimes aggressively healing people.

But they were stories, and stories aren’t real.


The princess was sad.

She was of an age to get married

and have children of her own,

and she was afraid.


She told her best friend about it.

Her friend was a long, long snake.


The snake asked why her father the king

was not helping her.


‘The marriage is his idea,’ replied the princess.


The snake asked why her mother the queen

was not helping her.

‘The marriage is his idea,’ replied the princess.


The snake asked why her mother the queen

was not helping her.


‘My mother died in childbirth,’ said the princess.


The snake asked why her grandmother

was not helping her.


‘My grandmother died in childbirth,’ cried the princess.


‘Your great gra—” began the snake.

The princess gave her a Look.

‘No, no, I get it,’ said the snake. ‘Childbirth.


‘What a curious race you are,’ said the snake.

‘In the wild, wild wood, we are all female

and if we want children we lay eggs

which hatch into wonderful daughters.’


The princess cried and cried.


One day when the princess was early for their meeting

she found her friend, pale and empty, and so, so fragile, on the ground. Now she had a new reason to cry.


The snake found her there and looked at her curiously,

Asked why she was crying so hard, so hard.


‘You’re dead!’ sobbed the princess.

‘I’m not,’ said the snake. ‘I’m renewed. Look.’

The princess looked and saw her friend

more beautiful than ever. Her friend explained

how snakes moult their skin, leaving all past mistakes

and sadnesses with their old one.


‘I wish I could do that,’ wished the princess.


‘You can,’ said the snake, in an odd voice.

‘And you have hands, so it should be easy.

Find an edge and tug and rub.

I found the bushes useful.’


The princess pricked herself on a rosebush and pulled,

staining the roses red. She stared, found an edge,

tugged and rubbed a little. It gave. There was new skin

underneath. She kept tugging.


Soon she was new and shining,

and if she had a few scales, who could blame her?


She laughed, stepped out of her old skin, neat

and clean as a whistle. Left with it

the rank and dignity of princess. Entered

the wild, wild wood, and was never heard of again.


Bio: Jennifer A. McGowan won the Prole pamphlet competition in 2020, and as a result, Prolebooks published her winning pamphlet, Still Lives with Apocalypse. She has been published in several countries, in journals such as The Rialto, Pank, The Connecticut Review, Acumen and Agenda. She is a disabled poet who has also had Long Covid for 15 months at time of writing. She prefers the fifteenth century to the twenty-first, and would move there were it not for her fondness of indoor plumbing.


This work is brought to you by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, two generous Patreon patrons. To learn how to support EC, visit our Patreon page.


The image is a vintage snake illustration, details unknown.


Anonymous said...

Can I be a snake too, please?

Sena said...

Enjoyed this story. People should listen to snakes and those who practice parthenogenesis.

Anonymous said...

I like this very much. And also, what the other/first anon said.

story.maker@yahoo.com said...

Ah, that first rip in the skin is always so scary! Healing to you, friend, You do lovely work.

auriel said...

Moon created people to be like her (my grandmother told me)
They would die, but be reborn.
However, she forgot to tell them this, &looking down one night
was appalled to see her children living in fear.
She asked her friend Chameleon to go among them
&set the record straight.

So slow old Chameleon went down to earth,
&gathered the tribe around her-
and in so doing, as was her nature,
she grew as hesitant and fearful as they-
"I was told to tell you," she began,
"Moon told me to tell you, oh a great secret. . .

"It's something that needs telling,
what I was sent to tell you," she said-
&Went on and on in this vein without saying anything at all.

Till Magpie- who was bored with listening-
called out from her perch on a bitter-cherry tree,
"What Chameleon is trying so hard to say is:
'Moon says you all are going to die, and that's that'"
"Oh no, no, no!" cried Chameleon, "Moon sent me to say this:
that though you die like her, likewise you'll be reborn!"

"Bah!" sneered Magpie(She has no patience &enjoys a scandal)
"Chameleon only says what she thinks you'd like to hear!
Look at her now, she is just the color of the stone she sits on."

&As what she said appeared to be so, people believed Magpie.
This is why Moon sometimes turns blue (grandmother told me)-
Thinking about her children makes her sad. . .