Colleen Abel

The Snake Handler

What I like best:
the crowd’s Pavlovian simmer.

The cobra knows it.
Like a pop star he waits

until they are restless,
lies limp in my hands

until desire
untwines him. I have to let

him get close. I have
to let them see coil and fang-gleam.

His milky venom pearls the air.
Their applause is like their prayer:

they do it till they believe
the snake has been defeated.

Colleen Abel is the author of Remake, which won the 2015 Editors Prize from Unicorn Press and which was released last month. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Housewifery and Deviants. A former fellow at UW-Madison’s Institute for Creative Writing, her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in venues such as The Southern Review, Colorado Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She is currently a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow. Her website is

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