June 13 Ruth Whitman: Castoff Skin

People are often compared to animals. You can be crazy like a fox, or answer sheepishly. Your words can be fishy – something smells rotten in Denmark. You can be as stealthy as a cat or as loyal as a dog. Your homeboy can be a dog – a friend or an enemy depending on the context. The girl across the way can be a dog, because you think she isn’t good looking at all – though looks are subjective – but apparently from the different ways that dog can be used as a simile words can be as well.

What kind of dog: a Golden Retriever? Black Lab? A Pug? A Dachshund? Each breed will bring up a different set of ideas and descriptions with it.

Sometimes a person can be compared to a snake. This is usually bad. A snake was in the garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve to go against God’s will. Snakes then became the symbol of the devil to all of Christendom. But snakes were also known as companions to the Greek gods who embodied healing and medicine – it’s why there are snakes used as medical logos. Snakes were seen as wise in Chinese culture. The symbol of rebirth in ancient Egypt embodied in the Ouroboros (the snake that swallowed it’s tail in an endless cycle of death and rebirth). The ancient Egyptians noticed that snakes shed their skin and became shiny and new afterwards, thus Ouroboros.

Here is a similar idea. Someone’s grandmother or old friend has slipped off her skin. She “crawls away, leaving/a tiny stretched transparence.” The same thing the snake does when he sheds his skin. I’m fairly certain this means that she’s died, but the poet is certain that a new her has come about (“I kissed her paper cheek/I thought of the snake” she lives as a memory?)- a different personification perhaps?

The end of bleak week gets a poem about death and rebirth, because, hey, life goes on.

Castoff Skin

by Ruth Whitman

She lay in her girlish sleep at ninety-six,
small as a twig
Pretty good figure

for an old lady, she said to me once.
Then she crawled away, leaving
a tiny stretched transparence

behind her. When I kissed her paper cheek
I thought of the snake,
of his quick motion.


About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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