The Voodoo priest was a very nice man, who giggled at his own little off-color jokes. Yet, behind the thin distortion of lenses, his eyes, preternaturally blue, held mine without once wavering. Even in the damp close hot courtyard where we met to talk, even in the close air of a Louisiana midsummer, I felt a prickle on the back of my neck, under that gaze.
He spoke in such a soft little voice that it was necessary for me to put my hands on the table and incline my head intimately toward his, all the way forward, as if leaning in for a lover's kiss. Even then, I could only catch every fourth word, like whispers on a rustling wind: "death...snakes...look...hear...old path...new path." I knew that I was allowed to assign any meaning I wished to his words, or no meaning at all; in the end, the words were of no great importance, just something to say.
The priest stroked sweet oil on my forehead, and on my palms, and he laid the resting coil of python across my upturned hands, and blessed me, and the weight of the inscrutable snake was a new experience of sensation: cool, still, heavy, quietly alive. A message, a lesson: a way to be in the world!
The snake raised her head and stared at me for a moment and her eyes were, improbably, as blue as the priest's eyes.
(photo taken at the Voodoo
Museum, New Orleans)
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