Susan Settlemyre Williams
Lament, With High Wind

Moses had seen the Burning Bush. Solomon by magic
knowed all wisdom. And Marie Leveau was a woman
in New Orleans.    — Zora Neale Hurston

The snake left me last night. I went for dirt

from the cemetery, and the wind had tossed
all the flowers into the street.
It was a pretty thing when the snake
flicked its tongue and called me. Marie.

You were born to power.
It was lying on my pillow;
it could have been my lover,
so I believed it. Not love. Young like me,

slender, just the first rattle on its tail.
It never shook its dice at me
except to warn of danger. I've saved
every one of its outgrown skins.

I found a two-headed doctor to teach me.
He told me, fast
naked on a snakeskin;
and while my soul walked, I grew

my second head. A sun
through my forehead, shining.
Three days I starved. I came
to the Spirit across fire

and pain and running water.
Then the doctor crowned me in the swamp,
with white candles, and a black ram died
to carry my prayer to the Spirit.

When clients come,
I go alone to my altar with the snake
to pray until I become a flute
for the Spirit. Write the name

nine times
, it croons
with my lips, take the Damnation Powders
and sprinkle them. Dig a hole.
Dress black candles in vinegar for the curse.

Nine black chickens with their heads
torn off. Burn the feathers.

I teach them to bring their enemies
down with blue candles. I give them

treated string to hold their lovers true.
Some that I curse would rather die.
One thing: because of the manner
I was called, I never use the power

to bind men to me or send them away.
I don't mess with pink love candles.
At the feast on St. John's Eve last year,
I called that boy to study with me.

He's learned nearly enough now.
The snake has grown thick
as a cypress and covers my altar
with its coils. Last night

it refused its food and began to sing.
Shrill old wind among the gravestones:
Teach the boy quickly.

This morning as the wind was starting,
I stuffed the empty hide with herbs of power
and saved my tears in a red bottle.
All day I've prayed while the wind rises.

For three days I will fast too
and sing up the waters and lightning and wind
and I'll be raised up like a black wing.
The boy will have the snake's last skin.