I sewed my lips shut with seaweed
my mother gave me to cage
the snake growing inside my mouth.
It whispered secrets to me,
praised the roughness of my scales,
the strength of my wings.
Mother didn’t want me to drown
like her, abandoned me with a beast
in decaying shackles I couldn’t tame.
It scraped its fangs against my flesh
and bone until my jaw was mauled,
its force fueled by the air of the shore.
There’s a snake sprouting out of my maw,
it shatters enemies and lectures me
about rulership and the fall of empires.
Vanessa Jae writes horrifically beautiful anarchies, reads stories for Apex Magazine and translates for Progressive International. She also collects black hoodies and bruises in mosh pits on Tuesday nights. To read tweets by interesting people follow her at @thevanessajae.
Author of “What Use are Wings to a Creature of the Sea”
What inspired you to write this story?
I was looking up Medusa’s origin story and hated how I’d always known her as an evil character. Her snakes are weapons there to protect her and if people didn’t want to cause her harm, they wouldn’t have to worry about her killing them. It’s infuriating how she was turned into an “ugly monster” as a punishment for being too beautiful and yet, she still keeps being bothered. I also thought it was interesting how her parents are sea gods and wanted to incorporate that.
What do you hope readers take from this story?
Listen to your snakes, let them out. You can’t change how people treat you, but you can decide to live empowered by the fact that you can rule your own life.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?
To start off: All of my favorite stories and some favorite poems are yet to be sold. I get a lot of rejections based on a failure to fit in with other works, which is why Apparition Lit’s themed issues are awesome! I wrote What Use are Wings to a Creature of a Sea for a themed anthology that didn’t end up taking it after a hold, then sent it off to another magazine while I waited for Apparition to open, so this poem only got two rejections before it was sold – which probably doesn’t give a lot of hope to other writers – but I believe the main reason is fit. Don’t think your writing sucks because of how many rejections you get, write what you love and you will find a perfect match in a publication sooner or later.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
Staying on the topic of Medusa, I’m obsessed with angry women and write and read about them a lot. Some recommendations on how to not let society smother your power are The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy, everything by Audre Lorde, as well as the podcast How to Survive the End of the World by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown.