My people gifted me the name u-tsa-na-ti,
but the white ones renamed me gray ratsnake
for my color and my prey.
I sidewind-slither among the trunks of the most hallowed aged ones—
pine, cedar, laurel, spruce, holly.
These stood vigil for seven days and nights
while the Great Spirit created all that is
above, below, here, within.
The grand sentries were rewarded
with loyal leaves that refuse to fall
with North Wind’s chilled caress.
Their roots stretch in sacred Appalachian soil,
an alchemy of clay, slate, granite,
on a limestone bed made from the
shells of ancient sea creatures.
Once unscarred by man’s slashes of demarcation,
the land still wails with the sorrows of spirits past.
The Trail of Tears washed
through this dung and dirt
as the Cherokee tribe was forced to walk
with babies in arms,
with elders crumbling to their knees,
for 1,000 miles.
My ratsnake ancestors, many skins long since shed
to the world beyond,
still whisper their truths.
We coiled our bodies into labyrinths, they hiss,
to lure the two-footed ones in other directions.
We hung from the limbs of our guardians and tried
to snag them as they walked by.
They hiss too of the small mockingbird
which darted across the trail
from pine to holly,
an oracle calling urgent warnings in
every language she knew.
They hiss of the mighty raincloud,
sodden with grief,
that swept across the sky to rain a river
the people would be unable to cross.
But like harsh wind to the cloud,
the people were pushed on by a cruel force.
Their blood flooded the dry creek bed,
splattering the sacred holly
with red droplets.
In the wreckage of such suffering,
the ratsnake, mockingbird, and raincloud
remain a trinity of gray,
mottled black with the color of death
and white with the color of peace.
More than two-thousand moons later,
they take refuge in earth’s mossy womb,
pregnant once again with
— Amy Rawe