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BooksOctober 13, 2023

The Friday Poem: ‘How to Shoot with a Snake’ by Johanna Aitchison


A new poem by Manawatū poet Johanna Aitchison.

How to Shoot with a Snake

Make it an LA day.

Make it in a warehouse.

Make it  bright outside, but cold inside.

Make it with an actress, who has a famously fucked up father; a photographer who’s known

as Dick; and a Vogue stylist, Polly, whose surname is a homonym of a fruit.

Make it 1981.

Make the actress 21.

Make the snake a recalcitrant snake.

Make the snake lie on the concrete floor at the actress’s feet for two hours.

Make the snake handler coax the snake with a hook.

Did I mention the snake was a Boa Constrictor?

Did I mention the person who came up with the Boa Constrictor idea was the actress?

Did I mention the actress lay on the floor, while the light licked the windows,

and LA’s famously cold buildings made the largest organ of her body seethe

with goose bumps?

Make sure the photographer has his line ready for when the snake finally decides to slide up the pelt of Hollywood’s most desirable star.

Did I mention the snake stopped at the actress’s shoulder?

Did I mention the snake snapped his pink mouth wide open?

Did I mention his ghost fangs? (The snake missed his fangs every goddamn day

of his serpent life).

Did I mention the snake’s tongue kissed the actress’s ear?

Here, this is where you’ll want to say your line.


Author’s note: This poem is based on the Vogue magazine shoot with Nastassja Kinski, Richard Avedon, and Polly Mellen, which resulted in the iconic image ‘Nastassja and the Serpent’.

The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are currently closed.

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