Animals: “Dominant Genes” by SJ Sindu

Dominant Genes

From the wombs
of true believers,
I came out faithless

a godless decadent
heathen but somewhere
in my foggy ancestral memory
I recall that women
used to worship
snakes. We’d put out

milk for cobras hoping 
they’d leave the baby 
in the crib alone
and if they drank from 
our offering, we
were guaranteed good

luck for a week, but 
that was long ago 
before the Eve-hating 
white men came with 
injections of snake 
fear shot right into

our pagan faith. Now 
when we see a cobra
in the house, we scream 
and the neighbors run 
over with hoes and 
machetes. One time 
when I was little 
I saw one the size
of my arm slithering 
on our veranda
and I got to scream
cobra! cobra! snake!

everyone! and they
all came, men yelling 
to save me, my 
grandfather wielding 
a kitchen knife and 
hacking the cobra

to bits right there in 
our backyard garden. 
My mother’s mother’s 
mother lived to be 
one hundred, insisted 
on sleeping in her

own house until the 
very end. But my 
mother is afraid of 
snakes and as a 
child tormenting 
her was a favorite

pastime. I’d beg snake
toys from relatives
and chase her. I’d twist 
snakes out of 
newspapers and old
scarves. Watching my mother

scream and run away, 
I laughed. I know now 
that it’s a phobia,
that she had no control 
over her reaction
but back then her

revulsion was a
sign of weakness, and 
I could feel like the
strong one. I guess I’ve
always had a serpent
tongue, though I learned early

to silence its bite. This, too, 
is a gift from the women of
my family. I
can cut through a
lover’s blood during

any fight. This is a liability,
this ability
to destroy a person. 
When I told my mother 
I wanted to be

a writer, she said 
nothing. She didn’t
have to. We come from 
a country where writer 
means dead child. In 
Harry Potter, speaking

serpent tongue meant 
you were evil, but really I
think JK Rowling 
couldn’t imagine 
herself out of her Christianity-
addled brain, like how 
Ray Bradbury could think up 
LCD wall TVs, but not
a world in which women 
had careers. My mother

tells me to write nice 
stories, to keep my 
serpent tongue caged. This 
is her wisdom: in this new
world my ancestral power 
is to be feared. I’m 

young and I ignore 
her, but she still goes 
to sleep every night 
thinking dead child dead 
child dead child

About SJ Sindu

SJ Sindu is a Tamil diaspora author of two novels, Marriage of a Thousand Lies and Blue-Skinned Gods (forthcoming June 2021), as well as the hybrid fiction and nonfiction chapbook I Once Met You But You Were Dead. A 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow, Sindu holds a PhD in English from Florida State University, and teaches at the University of Toronto.