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published in Issue 11 of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, 2014

My great-grandmother
at a hundred-and-one
tells me of hoop snakes who
bite their tails and roll like wheels
down the hills of Appalachia

of copperheads who hide 
in mountains like coal 

of black racers in barns who hiss speed 
and terror into the hearts of horses

water moccasins named 
Little Barren, Dix, Stinking Creek
who slither and twist through
palisades and Pennyrile
to writhe with Ohio and Mississippi

pit vipers who strike and strike the earth
โ€˜til the ground turns dark and bloody

of timber rattlers who shake bones
and before the white man came
spooked Shawnee and Cherokee
from ever settling

who later looped 
on tree branches wrapping
cotton mouths around the throats 
of swinging Negroes

serpents taken up and handled by deacons
tongues flickering with Pentecost flame
venom burning like bourbon neat

My great-grandmother 
at a hundred-and-one
tells me our land is shed skin 
of Edenโ€™s snake that Cain tucked 
into Abelโ€™s mouth after murder.

-Mark J. Royse
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