Al Ortolani


Mr. Ramsey suffered with pins in his foot, his cast
cushioned on a stack of books. He had remained
comfortable in his Methodism, even when faced
with his fall from the church-house steps.
However, he recalled a summer in Alabama
his family had gone to dig coal from the deep mines.

They were proselytized by evangelists in a camp
behind the bowling alley. Below the balmy awning
a serpent-handler brought down all manner of nightfall
on to the heads of sinners.
As a boy he watched his uncle’s conversion,
his knees in the dirt, the pebble of tongues in his mouth,
a moccasin writhing below the string
of bare-lit bulbs. A southern wind lapped
at the canvas like a dog at a water bowl.
The young Ramsey held tightly to the seat of his wooden chair.
He feared that he might be called to rise into the aisle,

wrists in the air, hands like tent flaps,
a snake heavy
coiling down onto his shoulders like muscle.

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