R.T. Smith

Snake Church and Patience, with Bees
July 23, 2022 Smith R.T.

Snake Church

I’m Reverend Brody Coots
from over in Bliss, Kentucky.
Don’t you think this pink
suit looks snappy but holy?
Come by on Sunday,
we’ll be high in the faith,
braving rat poison
and torch flames, eight
snakes I count so far,
one young copperhead,
likely last Easter’s hatch.
Listen here: I’ve been
bit six times when my
heart was off harmony
with Jesus, but I prevailed
over Old Scratch and sport
crippled fingers that can’t
half work a guitar or
button my own shirt,
but the Lord will provide.
His eye is on the sparrow.
It’s foolish to be afraid.
You might not guess,
but fangs feel at first
like the touch of a feather.
Angels sing in color.
You think you can fly.
By the way, have you tasted
Sister’s biscuits?  Light
as breath.  We’ll have
four plug-in guitars,
a drum kit and tambourine `
with some new glory
music.  We’ll all wallow
in His grace and make
the rafters rattle like
looms at the towel mill.
Joyella will be there, too,
to witness with me, as
we expect our assembly
to increase, guessing
from the feedback we’re
getting on Facebook.
But God’s a healer.  Don’t
never forget.  We’re all
Heaven-bound.  Drive up
early and we’ll break
bread, then step over
to meet the snakes.
You got to look them
in the face, creature
to creature, to be saved.
You know, as you breathe
and behold, even among
cursed serpents, the eyes are
the windows to the soul.


Patience, with Bees


A swarm of wild bees
settled like a storm in the elm
at the edge of the orchard,
no blossoms showing,
it being autumn,
but they knew the future,
the possibilities of pollen,
and must have been following
the scout who dances a path
to make way for a new queen.
The apple trees were windy
that night, the old elm swaying.
In the morning the windfalls
were mostly broken,
deer-gnawed, the spoil
of abundant harvest.
The calm air was sweet
on the farm, in the forest.
I walked out to listen
for the last insects as they sang
their hymn of common labor.


That’s one way we get weather
out here, too, something
humming, descending
in hints, insinuations,
followed by a sudden
horde of forces not quite
native seeking a new home,
bringing good or ill
without conscience, sowing
respect for vigor, taking
what is freely given.


Listen. I have smoked
their ambered chapel, stolen
comb wax for candles,
honey for healing skin
and vehicle for bitter
nostrums. I have suffered
my share of stings,
the yellow and ebony


bodies in my sheets,
the soup, the evening
whisky. Snow across
the threshold, thirst in rain’s
absence – they keep their
hive bustling. Have you
watched the workers’
fanned wings cooling
the wax, or their fury
when trespassers approach
as dust shocks the sky
into colored shimmers?


We believe our world
is a place of plenty.
We strive not to be greedy,
aspire to wait patiently
and take what the season
brings – passion or peace,
needling sleet or moon glow,
so long as our guests
are willing to lullaby us,
to keep us guessing
and teach us the durable
language of wild bees.

R.T. Smith has taught at Auburn University and was coeditor of the Southern Humanities Review. His most recent book is SUMMONING SHADES (Mercer U. Press).