for John Foster West
Squint-eyed and cunning, its tongue split
like a wishbone, the canebrake sulls up,
cursive spine and the diamonds in spiral
like genetic code,
and Joby frets the Stratocaster, it’s plastic
the color of a salted ham. A tambourine’s
discs shiver, and Brother Pascal wields the Book’s
hot gospel like a blunt instrument. This is
spirit. This is bliss. The words from Heaven
would almost strangle you. The Holy Ghost
is a rough customer alright,
and if someone comes for healing touch,
for translation into a mended soul,
a whole body, let him lie beside the altar
all shorn and shocked and willing, sing amen, say
and the current sizzles, the tail beads buzz,
as the road to Zion is not all gleam-gold.
Wind scratching poplar limbs
against cracked board-and-batten says
stormy heart. You can translate any syllable
into yearning, the Lord’s will,
as the rattler agitates, this being winter,
his deep sleep stolen by a prophet’s
hands clapping, raw notes of “power
in the blood.” He’s a mean
messenger, unguessable, and Brother Harvey
Robbins now cradling him
has the look of a man ready for crisis.
Come rapture, come venom,
that double ivory stab so quick you’re
not sure at first, then certain. It leaves limbs
withered but quickened. For some of us
in the lantern light, in the Carver’s Cove
church house where the floor rattles
like a loom room, a coal scuttle:
we know something is coming.
Snake-shakers, Holy Rollers, Faith
Healers from over in Silva or up in Teague,
we feel the wild muscle contract.
It’s no cakewalk to dance the devil
down. Uproot and undercut,
but something is coming right
now, something good. Leave your
coppers and dollars in the collection plate.
The moon out there is empty, visible
as a skillet in night sky.
The whoosh of angel feathers is coming,
the serpent’s hiss, the new dialect
we will sing to spring sowing, hallelujah.
On a good night the serpent will crown
some beloved brow-like braided brocade
and idle there, benign, as we begin
the mortal bargain, breathe the honey air
of limber love and behold
as the jaws open for a half-sought kiss.
Crystals in the hourglass glisten and summon,
the weave of bequeathed bliss,
birthright of the cursed helix.
Sister, keep your eye on the cross,
take my hand. The words will come.