How I Learned to Love Snakes (a poem) by Marie Cartier

Can I recall a time when my resilience surprised me?

My mother always said, “If you feel bad, go out into the garden and eat worms.” Sigh. We didn’t have a garden. My resilience. My head hits the counter, as my father’s hand slams into the back of my head. I am locked in a closet. I am. That would be my mother as I grew up. Kicked up. Weeds grow. They do. What is surprising to me at sixty is not my resilience, but the fact that I never leaned back. Stopped. Being resilient is the inside and out of my blood type—moving through all of my veins. I am surprised if I cut myself there is blood left. But there is. I still bleed.

This is resilience.

Can I recall a time when resistance was the only option?

My father. I am twelve. My best friend is over. I go in the other room with him. I have to. She hears this, my best friend. I resist shame like a knife blade I hold. I leave the room with the blade held out. Shame then holds out a cloak promising me something. A space to hide maybe. I resist. I am in a cold fever. My best friend and I sit; we are watching a documentary on TV. My mother sits behind us. She says to no one, “Things happen at everyone’s house. I bet things happen at your house, too.” My best friend and I say nothing. I resist feeling. On the TV are flamingoes and I will hate flamingoes for the rest of my life.

This is resistance.

Recall a time when community saved you.

I re-attach myself to that room, thirty years ago…five hundred or more strong. We are gathered to hear new authors talk about a new book, Courage to Heal. The authors, Ellen and Laura, come to the edge of the stage, so close they almost step out of the light. Ellen says, “You do not have to forgive your perpetrator in order to heal.” A roar inside of me echoes and bursts and stands up in the room with the roar bursting from everyone in the room. Incest survivors. We all are standing up and we are all roaring. We are. We are seen. We see each other. We are—enough. I am held and I am there. We are together in that healing. That spell. I was there and I was healed.

This is community.

How has your expression shifted?

I read poetry in bars before people read poetry, before slams, before it was called spoken word. I yelled from the stage to two guys talking in the front of me, “Hey! I’m reading poetry up here!” I yelled until all conversation stopped and I was reading into a silence that held me. I said I was raped. I was hit, But I was here now. I was speaking. I said I was told not to tell, but I was talking. I was telling– it all. I spoke and moved and was. And I saw the people in the bar raise their glasses, the two guys were back in the room toasting me. And I bowed. I was and I am. I do poetry. I do it in the fire of my belly. My truth. It’s not right or wrong how one learns to speak. But …I did learn. I opened my mouth and yelled, and I was heard. And I healed.

This is expression.

What helped through periods of suffering?

As a young girl, I would go outside and I would find a garter snake, a green snake and I would wind it around my ankle and I would go into the woods with the snake around my ankle. I would lie under blueberry bushes and strip the berries into my mouth. I would build a tree fort four stories high and climb to where no one could go. I would swing so high on the backyard swing I was level with the ground. I would tie on skates and skate for miles on the river. I would go, climb, ride as fast as I could. And then I would go further. As far as I could go. And then further. And as I moved, I found people. My friends, my tribe, my pod. They were not garter snakes, but they were good. They were there.

This is healing.

I have a deep love and respect for snakes. I will always love snakes and I hold out hope for that snake I found so many days when I was a young girl running for my life.

Was it the same snake? I thought so then. She was my friend. She understood everything. I made it so.

I make it so.

And, to every person who pulled me up, rather than slapped me down, I still see you. I still feel you, and I still hear you.

If you’ve never felt the body of a snake, you probably don’t know that it is cool, and dry. It is soft and silky. A snake in the grass saved me.

Lilith in the Tree of Wisdom whispered to me, Tell your truth and you will find your way out. Find your story and you can get the hell out of here.

And she was right.

— Marie Cartier, February 2021

With thanks to Cuties LA Poetry Workshop and instructor Xavier (@cutiesla; @truxav)


Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.  She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.

Categories: abuse, Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Ethics, Healing, Poetry

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12 replies

  1. Brave beautiful you!! Thank you Marie for not only speaking your truth but bellowing it out in bars! A deep deep deep bow to your love and strength! and that garter snake wrapped around your ankle. Nature saves, She does, doesn’t she.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is so wrong. No one should ever have to go through this. But so many do. Bless you.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Oh, such horrors and you speak with such passion – You are a survivor and a model for any of us who have suffered the unspeakable. Thank you…As for the snake – well it is always amazing to me to hear yet another story of some animal that intervened although it is still the norm in my own life – it is also grace.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I have a deep love for garter snakes, and my own sacred experiences with them. I am so moved to hear about the snake who helped to heal you, led you out of hell into the wild garden.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Wow–you’re so brave, so resilient, so expressive. And you’re a survivor and a poet. I’m proud to be your friend and to have heard you reading your poetry. Brightest blessings to you and to all the girls who survive and grow up and find beauty in snakes and anything else.

    Liked by 4 people



  7. Beautiful, powerful, but I regret that it is true. Your past shaped you and made you the powerful force that you are today.


  8. Your story moved me to tears. Carrying trauma doesn’t mean it has won, and your courage is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story.


  9. Amazing this is. BRAVE and STRONG.


  10. VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE read your voice and wept … how many young girls and children around the world experience what you experienced … and share your “love” of healing to survive … with or without forgiveness … What happened to you must never have happened in your life time … Be blessed as you move sailin g along the river of life …


  11. Thank you Marie….A thousand times Thank you………………………


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