Exquisite Corpse - Issue 4
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The Snake Lies!
by Frederick Zackel

Women of the world! Be vigilant! A limp penis is a silent, desperate cry of help. Your Significant Other may be wrestling with Death itself.

This is not a laughing matter. Twenty million American males have trouble getting it up, keeping it up, proving to you that what they have matters.

This is a matter of life and death.

Every year 25,000 American males suicide. That's four times more than women. And the men most likely to suicide are those older ones who have never known failure, who have been successful. They feel unmanly, no longer in charge.

They are retired. They are eunuchs. See them tailing the old lady at the supermarket. They are detached, preoccupied.

Suicide is a male thing. At the age of ten boys will kill themselves twice as often as girls will. By the late teens the ratio is four to one. But the ratio skyrockets. By age seventy-five the ratio is ten to one!

Impotence is failure.

Listen to the Good Book. God planted the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve could eat from the Tree of Life without fear of death, without guilt or shame. But the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was forbidden to them.

In rabbinical tradition, the first sin was the acquisition of Sexual Knowledge. "The fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden" (Genesis 3:3) was an euphemism for the vulva and the seeds "sown therein." Eve was seduced by the serpent and thus her first born was Cain, the son of the Devil.

In Genesis 3:5, the snake tells Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and "ye shall be as gods." The basic appeal then was to Pride. To renounce the true God. The Snake of Eden was therefore identified with the Devil until Romans 16:20.

But "awareness" is critical.

How soon did Adam and Eve know they'd sinned?

The Tree of Life is denied Adam and Eve. They shall "surely die" (Genesis 2:17).

Saint Paul thought the Garden was archetypal, though he never used that word. He thought it was emblematic of all of humanity.

The Koran said the forbidden fruit was the banana, and Arabian slang calls the penis a banana, which explains a lot. However, the Koran never mentions the word "penis" directly.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Society and Solitude, "Where the banana grows man is sensual and cruel."

We can forget about the apple. There were not apples as we know them in the Fertile Crescent, although one old legend says the Apples of Sodom (by the Dead Sea) were bright and red and luscious-looking, but they turn to ashes on the tongue. That they can only bring disappointment is in keeping with the pleasures they advertise.

Adam's profession, of course, was a gardener.

According to the Talmud, Adam only spent a dozen hours in the Eden before he was evicted. We can guess how he spent his time there.

We think forbidden fruit is sexual experience before marriage. Since this sexual experience was before marriage, forbidden fruit had to have other meanings.

The Big Hurt is this: The Garden of Eden is a story of sex and death. The snake lies.

Adam lost his immortality to a serpent, as Gilgamesh lost his to a serpent. The snake is the life force and comes out of the ground, a symbol of fertility, for the creation of life itself, for the regeneration of life force.

The snake is potency itself. The snake sheds his skin yearly. The eternal myth of the snake shedding his skin is the symbol of life eternal, of rebirth eternal, of resurrection and renewal eternal.

The snake lies when one becomes aware that life is not eternal. That Death has Appointments To Keep, too. Sometimes in Samara. Sometimes in Suburbia.

As one ages, the body feels age. That's what happens when we get older-- we turn into a barometer. As William Wordsworth knew, awareness is also irreversible: "Nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower."

William Wordsworth had a more individualistic point of view on this problem of self-awareness. In "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," the poet posits the newborn infant as the first stage of Eden, that "Heaven lies about us in our infancy," that we come from God "trailing clouds of glory."

Our life's energy parallel the sun's progress. The rising sun and the growing boy are parallels, just as there is a parallel between the rising sun and sexual energy. But awareness is inevitable, and "Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy."

The glory of the male's first erection is its promise, and gradually the promise becomes more common, more prosaic, until such time that the poet says "maturity was a time of inevitable grief."

Each of the Egyptian pharaohs--one after the other--became the divine son of the sun god Re.


Adam and Eve left the Garden, their hands covering their faces to hide their shame. If guilt is about what we feel when we do something wrong to another, then shame is what we feel when we do wrong to ourselves.

They covered their nakedness, their genitals, and their faces are covered.

Shame on them.

The Garden remains important to us. It stays within us, a collective memory we have of an idyllic moment in the past. This old memory goads our daily lives, is a goal for us.

Each new day we reach out to attain this goal (to live as once upon a time we did live), and the very act of reaching onward and outward for the Garden reminds us how far we have continually moved ourselves away from that very same Garden.

The Garden of Eden lay far to the east, and most Christians knew you couldn't get there from here. (Even though Marco Polo and his uncle could walk to China and back.)

As we reach for Paradise, it recedes.

Paradise is behind us. We chase it. Paradise is a yearning to be a simple animal again. To be inconsiderate. To be inarticulate. To have sex without shame, without once considering the consequences of our actions. Milan Kundera noticed in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that "Dogs were never expelled from Paradise."

Kundera goes on: "No one can give anyone else the gift of the idyll; only an animal can do so, because only animals were not expelled from Paradise."


In Romans 5:12 it is written, "Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned."

Between the Garden of Eden story in Genesis and this passage from Romans, the predominant point of view of the early Christians held that the knowledge of "death"--and not the knowledge of "lust"--was the cause of man's expulsion.

Man is born to die; this was the sin of Adam given all mankind.

The scholars kept busy defining and redefining.

Augustine of Hippo (I refuse to call him a Saint) was the pivotal voice in our Master Narrative. According to his calculations, Adam's transgression was his lust. His sexual fevers led to rampant concupiscence.

Augustine of Hippo decided we Westerners are all born into the world with the taint of Original Sin upon us. Therefore, he decided, all newborn infants were not exempt from guilt and thus all needed to be baptized. If not, an infant who dies would go to Hell. (We must also think of the awesome infant mortality rate in those days. No wonder parish priests made house calls in the middle of the night; no baby should die unbaptized.)

Until Augustine, baptism was for adults, those "converted" to the Church. His "impedimenta"--his baggage--became ours. What slowed him down now slows us down. We took over his burdens. He sloughed it all off on us. His emotional hang-ups became ours.

Augustine was accused by his contemporaries of being a latent and endemic Manichaeist because he taught that, because of humanity's fallen nature, the sexual act can never be without sin. In City of God (14.16), his best example of the disjunction between the will and sexual desire was impotence. In the sexual act, the moment of conception is the moment the future child has transmitted original sin into his soul.

Augustine also said we are all on a pilgrimage to the City of God. Of course this is the same Augustine who described his own personal and specific addition to sex. He was addicted to sex.

Augustine knew lust firsthand. Robert Bly quotes him as saying, "'A man by his very nature is ashamed of sexual desire." Later in his life, his sexual member rose, Augustine said, whether he wanted it to or not. He called this 'a movement of disobedience' which shows that 'mankind since Adam has been entirely corrupt.'"

One of the more interesting biographical notes about Augustine is his early belief in Manichaeism, a belief which suggested that man's soul was rational and spiritual and created by the Supreme Being, but his body was irrational, material, and created by an evil demiurge. Augustine spent nine full years within this sect.

The Gnostic-Manicheans were part apocalyptic diabology, part Iranian dualism, and part Greek Orphism. It was a complete mythology. A cosmic struggle between a good God of Spirit and an evil God of Matter. (That "evil one" was translated by the Church into Satan, of course.)

Their sin was the denial of monotheism. I am the Lord Thy God. Thou shalt have no strange gods before me.
Augustine of Hippo defined Adam's sin. Why are we not surprised at his definitions? Why are we not surprised at the reverberations?

Augustine's theories became doctrine at the two Councils of Carthage in 416 and 418. We still haven't realize the impact Augustine has over us.

He made sex "dirty."


Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge and saw they were both naked. They were conscious for the first time.

The female sex organ is hidden and covered by pubic hair. The male sex organ is out in front. This is the advent of original sin.

In all countries, in all times, the erect penis, as is the full belly of a woman, is the visible manifestation of fertility.

The penis is God's handiwork. Oh, some urologist could carefully, methodically explain all the various components that enable the penis to perform its functions, but the truth is always simple not complex: A cock is a cock and cannot be mistaken for anything else.

Perhaps the original sin is Self-awareness.

God said, "For your sin of consciousness, you must die!"

What began with Adam and Eve slinking in shame from the Garden of Eden gradually evolved into Gustav Flaubert's grand comment, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi!"


The Judeo-Christian narrative believes in a fallen universe. Man is the only animal that sins. That is Adam's Curse, which is Original Sin.

Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge and saw they were both naked. They were conscious for the first time. They discovered shame.

The female sex organ is hidden and covered by pubic hair. The male sex organ is out in front.

The erection is an act of faith in the future. Yes, it can be unconscious at times, but men without faith are men without erections. As a man ages, his faith in the future often can shrink against the awesome impact of the calendar. He is more aware.

Self-consciousness can become a curse. A man who is too self-conscious loses his erection, goes limp, is a failure, is ashamed.

Perhaps Adam's original sin was that he couldn't get it up. Once that happened he was ashamed of himself. Eve was ashamed because she did all she could and still could do nothing to help her man.

God banished them from the Garden of Eden--banished them from simple innocent sexual pleasure--because their minds were infected with too much cogitation. In the eyes of the Lord, impotence in a Garden of Plenty is the sin of too much Knowledge.

The snake figures both literally and metaphorically.

Early legends of a god or a great king fighting a great serpent (as in the Khmer legends, for instance) is almost universal, or perhaps generic. They may represent a metaphorical explanation of what "civilization" means, which is self-control over male lust.

The Minoan mother goddess of Crete had snakes around her body and snakes leaping from her hands. Women of Crete were equal to men. The priestess was preeminent. All this threatened the warriors of the Mycenaean civilization that followed the Minoan.

The Zulus of South Africa believed in the mamlambo, a mythical river snake. Zulu women in some polygamous households kept actual river snakes as good luck charms, hoping the man of the house would favor them. The mamlambo (which translates as "the mother of the river") had an insatiable sexual appetite. She could become a beautiful woman and seduce any man. Once she moved into his kraal, a male relative--a brother, a father, a son--would soon die. In her earliest and most ancient aspects, she was a fertility symbol. She brought love and prosperity upon a kraal, or household.

The ancient Incas believed that the Great Serpent left his underground home and coupled with the Rain Goddess, and thus the world was created.

The snake is the penis itself. "He went from bar to bar dragging his penis behind him," a saloon friend once described a mutual friend's unsuccessful night on the town.

Watch the bull elephant follow after the cow elephant, while she trumpets to the herd to bear witness to his mounting. His snake-headed penis chases her like a cobra, furrowing the dirt between his legs, undulates aloft to strike.

The penis is a snake. "The snake lies." Impotence is no renewal. No phoenix rises from the old man's lap.

If a sword is a phallus and desire is a flame, then the Angel with the Flaming Sword who guards the Garden of Eden from the impotent man and his unsatisfied mate has a new interpretation.

"My sword is aflame with the Power of the Lord!"

Don't drop your soap in a monastery.


Too much cogitation leads from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Earthly Delights, that Boschian nightmare of grotesque gymnastics and curious couplings.

Perversion began at the Gates of Eden. Where will it all stop?

An impotent man can spend years in psychotherapy trying to relax, take it easy, be less aware of himself. Impotence can lead to calcified rage, or worse, violence: wife-beating, suicide, homicide.

That road is a one-way street, just as Time is a one-way street. Therefore overcoming self-awareness is like driving the wrong way down a one-way street, fraught with anxiety and great dangers.

Get it up. Keep it up. And for God's Sakes, don't think about it! If you do, you'll lose it.

Often rapists are impotent, and these men are the most violent, the most erratic, the ones filled with the greatest self-hatred. They attack women to punish the women for being women; that is, unattainable.

Beware the man who is ashamed of himself. A man who is ashamed of himself is cousin to a coward with a gun. The most dangerous man in the world is a coward with a gun. The gun is the extension of the penis. Well, it's got a handle, anyway!

The first law of the wild: If it's sick, don't touch it.

Susan Howe writes in My Emily: "The American continent and its westward moving frontier. Two centuries of pioneer literature and myth had consistently compared the land to a virgin woman (bride and queen). Exploration and settlement were pictured in terms of masculine erotic discovery and domination of alluring / threatening feminine territory."

Beware the man who rapes the land.


We all remember the Gorgon Medusa. She had snakes for hair. Writhing, squirming, dangerous snakes. She could turn a man to stone. Perseus watched her reflection in a polished shield and was able to kill her by cutting off her head with his sword. If the snake is penis power, Medusa was feared by men because she had more penis power than they did.

The polished shield is important. Reflections, mirrors, echoes are important. Medusa the mirror turns like against like, neutralizes male power with her power. She turns men into stone.

But there is still more. Medusa's twin, her double, was Athena the Queen. Medusa dared to compete against the Queen, and thus her fate was sealed.

Medusa is impotent as a woman. She can have no men. Her power to render men impotent renders her impotent, too.

Who will sleep with Medusa?

Perseus was ordered to kill her. Ah, she may have been beautiful. She may have been hideous. No man can know. Who could look upon her and live?

Medusa is herself a reflection of penis power gone awry. What is ugly in a man is hideous in a woman, the myth says.

The penis is heroic, much like Beowulf. It has its limitations. It can only fight (stay erect) for so long. Its powers are suppose to fail. That way the next generation gets its chance to erect a new battle.

Lust. We recognize it in others. We deny it in ourselves.

Sex and Death. Eros and Thanatos.

Freud's endless conflict.

We have all sorts of taboos. When was the last time you saw a man romancing, i.e., having an affair, with a young pregnant housewife with a baby in a stroller?

A hundred years ago the Anglo-American culture was horrified by Sir Richard Burton's tales of pederasty in the male brothels of Karachi and the sexual assault on a woman by a baboon in a Cairo open air market.

Do perversions evolve from too much self consciousness? Too much self-awareness? Does it really take more variety in order to stay erect? To perform?


Impotence makes men old decades earlier than they deserve. That is the lie of the snake: that its phallic power confers immortality.

In the wild, if the male animal cannot get it up, the female finds another male who can. In fact, even if this specific male does do her, she will often search out other males and have sex with them to insure her pregnancy.

So Eve's sin was not that she kept trying, not that she couldn't get it up, but that she stayed with the impotent male. This is the sin of Eve. On the other hand, most early Church fathers believed Eve was a virgin until the Fall.


Impotence is the Original Sin. Impotence sets us apart from the animal kingdom. A man who is impotent is ashamed of himself. The woman who cannot help him overcome this problem also shares the shame. She is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

An old story is told of President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge visiting a chicken ranch. The First Lady tells the President, "I hear a rooster can make love dozens of times each day," whereupon the President dryly retorted, "He's not making it with the same hen each time."

Often a man thinks with his penis, and while the vagina has been metaphorically linked to the Great Mother Goddess Mother Earth who can swallow us up, the penis has no mouth. By definition a penis that feels itself a failure cannot spit out the truth.

The wife whose husband is impotent often blames herself. Thus Adam and Eve left the state of nature and sought to be civilized.

A limp penis is a silent cry of anguish.

Yes, a male-dominated society oppresses women. But at the same time a premium is placed by that society upon virility, and the penalty for impotence can be a devastated self-esteem.

Life loses its meanings.

If a man has never failed before . . .

Suicide is nigh!

For a man whose self-identity is directly linked to his view of his virility, a limp penis should be seen as a red flag. A penis when limp is desperate.

Yes, this is wrong. This is not right. This is goofy and chauvinistic and sexist. But most men think this way in their heart of hearts, in the shadows of their souls, (if they think at all!)


Suicidologists tell us that most men still think they need to be the strong, silent type. Most American males still believe, as Antoine d'St Exupery said sixty-odd years ago, "A man keeps his love like his courage hidden."

The Maltese Falcon
created a male fantasy, the private eye, a mythic character who swept over American popular culture and spawned literally thousands of copies of Sam Spade. Yet, Sam Spade is obsessive-compulsive about women, and is easily the most frightened man in San Francisco. The book reeks of his fears of death and impotence. Death is the failure to do your duty, which is to stay alive. Impotence is the failure to do your duty, which is to multiply.


The penis can be an unspeakable horror, too, emblematic of the vile and vicious wasteland that lies between Othello the Moor and Hannibal the Cannibal.

Masculinity that has been rendered impotent can become masculinity repressed, and this repression can sometimes explode with violent rage. Twisted with insanity and hatred, it can produce a Jack the Ripper who preys upon women --especially the prostitutes. Prostitutes are those women who have little sympathy with impotence, who insist they can fix it. Their livelihood depends upon their ability to cure impotence. If they can't, they could laugh at the male.

There are too many parallels between Jack the Ripper and the butchery behind the Black Dahlia's death. Almost all serial killers slaughter prostitutes, or have condemned innocent women as if they were prostitutes. The only known female serial killer in the United States was a Florida prostitute abused by men. The FBI says there may be as many as twenty serial killers roaming the Midwest right now. Today.

A San Francisco prostitute once confided to me that she had just left a regular trick, a Vietnam veteran paralyzed from the waist down. "As soon as he gets me all worked up, he backs off and laughs and laughs." They had made a separate peace treaty between them. She never criticized his methodologies, and he saw her twice weekly.

Perhaps Elizabeth Short and the murdered women of Whitechapel Road were all victims of a sociopath's impotence. Their experience in such matters may have been the threat that ignited their deaths.

Fearing that they had been cuckolded, the French military had Mata Hari shot by a firing squad. Her real crime? She just loved men in uniform. Legend says she blew a kiss to the firing squad just before . . .

Perhaps this is why the US Armed Forces resist homosexuals in the military. Those young recruits, blustering with incipient virility, yet still virginal behind all that bravado, might become encoded like new chicks with messages the brass are afraid of.

Most men wish to die as Nelson Rockefeller died, in the saddle. Yet impotence is the secret culprit behind the phrase, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword."

Urban biography is rife with tales of men who were powerhouses of virility in small towns who moved to great cities and discovered they did not have nor were they ever the biggest penises around. Many suicided.

Other men, too, always successful in every arena, find one day their sexual gun won't fire, and they raise "the extension of the penis" and blow their brains out. Ernest Hemingway preferred the shotgun; the longest barrel, I suppose, that he could find.

Often the most successful men of all cheat on their wives with either a mistress or a prostitute. Their impotence is unacceptable. For these desperate lost souls, a limp penis is a silent cry for help.

Jake in The Sun Also Rises rebukes Lady Ashley who sighs, "Think of all the wonderful times we could have had together." Impotent as he is from the war (or maybe a bicycle accident or from a bullfight gone wrong), Jake knows, "Isn't it pretty to think so." He knows what she'll be missing. This father's son doesn't rise no more.

The Hamlet story is similar to the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris. Horus, who was the son of Osiris, killed his uncle Seth, who had killed his brother Osiris.

Osiris lost his penis. His faithful wife Isis couldn't locate it to reassemble (and afterwards reanimate) her spouse. Without his penis, Osiris could not longer rule over the living. He became the God of the Dead and the Judge of the Souls.

Imagine Hamlet and Othello transposed. Othello, hearing from his father's ghost that Uncle Claudius poured poison in his ear while sleeping, would've humped down to the throne room and whacked off Uncle Claudius's head faster than you could say "Ghost." On the other hand, Hamlet, when Iago would whisper in his ear that Desdemona was cheating on him, would have dithered and dathered, languished and loitered about, and he and Desdemona would have ended up celebrating their fiftieth anniversary.

Somehow Hamlet just seems impotent.

The Lion King
is just Hamlet on the veldt.


Sex and death. One topic.

Progeny is our immortality.

All stories are stories of sexual union and the attempt to stave off death. (But we all have an appointment to keep in Samara.)

All action stories are stories of sexual conquest.

All revenge stories are the revenge of a man against "the other man who raped my sexual goal." All revenge stories are the revenge of a woman against "the other woman who sabotaged my sexual goal."

Every hero begins as a virgin, and his desire to conquer is a passionate drive below his consciousness and will accept no defeat on its rush to impregnation. There will be no accommodation, no compromise.


The Shame came from the Garden of Eden.

If you did not feel shame, you needed to be taught shame. "Look at what you've done!" cried the horrified missionaries. "You were naked. And you killed God!"

Without shame, you could not be saved. There must be something wrong with you first, before you could be healed and redeemed.

Your betters had to look down their noses at you before you could look up to them.

Your identity was slave to the master.

Your tribe, your clan, your culture, your people, your nation could not help you. You are no community before God. You are on your own, buddy. On your own and alone. Your grave is yours alone. You have your coffin to yourself.

The only solidarity Death brought was the solidarity of genocide. The mass grave lumped "you people" all together, whoever "you people" were.

Hey, "you people" were the losers, the failures, the dead.


Long before Saint George, the patron saint of England, slew the dragon, the hero's sword has been thought to be an extension of his penis.

Remember it was Sir Lancelot (Lance-a-lot) who proved more manly than King Arthur's Excaliber, who wooed Guievve away from King Arthur and his Excaliber.

Fencing duels are automatically understood to be penises banging away together, like rams butting head in the springtime.

Many mythologists suggest the dragon itself is the monster of sexual inadequacy, of sexual self-consciousness. The hero must overcome his impotence in order to become man. After a fearsome battle with all those dragons who want his penis limp, the hero's sword must thrust and penetrate. There must be much blood, and the monster must die. Then, and only then, does the hero win the chaste maiden's hands and other limbs.

The hero's quest is the quest each virgin male must make for his sexual initiation and the sympathy of a willing mate. To 18th century England, a condom was "armor" to fight in. The hero's quest is a matter of life and death.

Sexual life or sexual death. Progeny is the closest we get to immortality. If we can't have kids, we're an evolutionary dead-end. We're sexual dodos.

For a time, Viagra was the most popular drug in the world, outselling every other drug. But times change. Now it is number two, to Celebrex, the new wonder drug for arthritis.

The snake lies.

Phoenix means rising from the dead.

Women, save your men!

Frederick Zackel is a contributing editor to the literary website January magazine www.januarymagazine.com He has published two novels and teaches literature and writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Read Frederick Zackel's piece in CyberCorpse Issue 2.

Email: fzackel@wcnet.org

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