A Few Notes on the Basilisk

Maya Catherine Popa


The snake who made an ashtray of the noon sky,
burning flock after low-flying flock over Rome,

was not hungry, exactly, nor remorseful.
Hidden in the books of Saint Isidore:

                 Basilica snake, latent 
                                      interpreter,          king snake (you are) 

                 an adagio on legs,                     the moon,     an aspect 
                                           of its vintage transit,     your shadow runs, 
                 the reflection of you can,           the mirror shatters 

                                                               at suspicions of you {...}


Some say the Saint 
was confused in his fear,

but tell the stone-still youths
of myth’s misunderstanding,

tell them how the birds, besotted of trees
cindered over the square.


I will show that the snake was in fact a cobra.
I will show that the snake was in fact a snake,
            not St. Hildegard, inviolate in ecstasy.

I will show that the snake will aim for your face, 
will aim at your worry
for your young.

It will aim for your eyes since it knows they admit 
what we love and resents 
our famines.


Basilisks are not asps.

             Of this I wish to be perfectly clear.

What basilisk would stop its ear with its tail
and press the other to the ground
to ward off charms?

Though both despise the Egyptian mongoose
and make a game of rearranging steeples
in the sand,

the asp dreams of Gothic arches
while the basilisk dreams of auditoriums.


Reports of the basilisk’s
effects on vegetation:

                       the field aflame,
                       no hay for the horses,
                       the barn whinnies in hunger.


The basilisk has good posture.

It is said to carry crowns
more gracefully than the queen.

                       At night, she pins
                       a snake doll
                       green with envy,

and wishes the snake an odd number of legs,
and wishes for sight that stuns and stuns.


Some accounts, of course, are offensive:
hatched from the lucent dark of a toad,
lovechild of the aged cock.

Imagine you die if you are seen first,
imagine seeing is all the difference.

Break the egg and it appears empty.
In that emptiness, the basilisk.