It’s morning and I’m working my way through my daily caffeine intake. I should not be thinking about snake handling, and I should be writing about it even less when I am bleary-eyed and peering at the brightness of the screen. It’s 8:30. So why am I thinking of snake handling? My grandmother. She died earlier this year. She was 93 and lived a long and full life. Covid took her out, which just pissed me off to no end, but I digress.
My grandmother grew up in depression era Appalachia. Born in Kentucky, then married and living on the mountain where the Hatfields and McCoys had their battles. And yes I’m related to them – both of them. Before she had to move to a nursing home, I would visit her every week and she would tell me stories. One was about going to a snake handling church. She was young and recalled the preacher dancing with the snakes and the people speaking in tongues. These images filled my imagination so I did what I do and I wrote about it. “Revival” was published in a magazine called “Penumbric” and later was included in one of my collections. Incidentally, one of these days I’ll get around to putting up a bibliography.
Revival They share the taste of strychnine, liquid faith like crystal purity, bottled in a mason jar scented with the ghost of last year’s peaches. Dusty boots thump, and patterned skirts swirl, keeping time with the choir of shivering tambourines, as they cry with broken voices of the rapturous divine. The Reverend handles serpents, armed with shining words of God, and preaches fervent sermons with the cadence of the hissing snakes, sliding coils through grasping fingers scarred with memory of sin. He sways, moves with strange conviction, and teaches salvation to the undulating devout, singing in blind ecstasy in obsolete tongues. They dance, caught in serpentine embrace, anointed by the Spirit with sacred revelations, as the congregation burns, wrapped in spiraling religion. julie shiel