I never liked snakes. I would see them in their enclosures, look at them the way one looks at violence or blood, horrified and yet compelled, staring, just a moment longer before I looked away. There is talk of reptilian brains; we all have one we’re told. I imagine a snake head somewhere behind my eyes, a jealous viper who would swallow my enemies rather than forgive. What did the snake do to be so maligned? He wields a forked tongue. He tempted Eve to eat the apple. And now he is lodged inside my mammalian brain, willing me to return to the jungle: fight or flight.
But I have seen the snake make love. Yes, make love. I stood on a path not five feet away and watched: the female, supine, arched, her pale belly exposed, the male’s head moving, stroking her from head to tail. “The female must be aroused,” the docent tells us, “in order to copulate. He can’t enter her until she’s aroused. It’s physically impossible.” And so the snake makes love, not panting doggie love, but seduction, oblivious to the voyeurs on the path. The male twines around the female as the snake catcher arrives with bag and pole. “He’ll take the female first,” the docent says, and the catcher disengages the female, loops her, and stuffs her in the bag. Choosing neither fight nor flight, the male springs into the bag behind her. What went through his reptilian brain? What drove his passion that he would risk entrapment to be with his love?
Some would say the art of seduction evolved with the proliferation of the species; female snakes cannot be raped. Clumsy lovers died out long ago. But I will not see my reptilian Romeo demystified. I imagine the lovers in Eden, two vertebrates entwined. I stare, just a moment longer, before I look away.