Snake Handling at Mt. Zion Church
by John M. Valentine

    The serpent rattles like dry seeds
    In a gourd, coils in a dark box.
    I've seen how grace stuns a man,
    Drops him with a quick hand,

    Splays him like lightning.
    The eyes of a healer are feral,
    The yellow translucence
    Is cold as a snake.

    I've seen the tangle of tongues
    As they spit a broken language
    Wet with froth and sibilants.
    I've heard the holy yammer.

    But now the long and writhing
    Diamondback rises in rings,
    Spreads a necklace head to head.
    It flicks a reed, fumbling for speech.

    The pink mouth opens,
    Finds at last a sudden word.
    The spirit sweats,
    Latticework lightning branches

    In the blood. Venom runs deep,
    Rubs the bone, makes it shine.
    They dance the Tarantella,
    Their faces bright and blue as a soul.

    They drop, go down to darkness.
    What rises trembling then is pure,
    Newborn, as they stumble like Lazarus
    To the upper world of light.

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