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How to Not Be Afraid

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea around us.”
— Franz Kafka

Start by looking
at a picture of your fear
several times each day
and at unexpected moments.
Yup. Just whip out
that glossy snake 
photograph and stare
at it for four seconds.
See how you feel.
Read how others have
come to terms with it,
how the Norse serpent
grows and grows until
it encircles the known
world, holds it all
together exquisitely.
Next, lift a plastic replica 
of one into the palm 
of your hand. Try
talking to it, make friends
with it, so to speak.
Watch a real one in a jar;
get used to how it moves.
Take a trip to the nearest
reptile house and say
to yourself: behold, my fear
is contained behind glass.
If you find none of this
to work, remind yourself
that earthquakes can turn
water into gold, and that you
and I are nothing more
and nothing less
than the interiors
of collapsing stars.


CHARLOTTE MATTHEWS is associate professor in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program at the University of Virginia. She lives in Charlottesville with her husband Albert Connette (who is the pastor of Olivet Presbyterian Church), her two teenage children and a big galumphy black Labrador.