Snake Medicine review

Review of Snake Medicine (First Step) by Laura Lee Bennett

Snake Medicine

Snake Medicine (First Step) by Laura Lee Bennett


Pamela Denchfield,
January 2018

(To buy a copy of the book, contact the author through her Facebook page.)

The copper scales on the cover make you wonder. A snake? A landscape? But what really catches your eye is the dropper held between thumb and forefinger. Some magic juice is being squeezed from that dropper into a lake—or a snake eye.

“Snake Medicine” is not the entire title of this poet’s work. Way below the coppery scales is a subtitle: “(First Step).” The words are set off in parentheses as if to further de-emphasize them. You wonder how many steps of snake medicine there are. Or perhaps you have it reversed and snake medicine itself is only the first step.

Flipping the book over and reading the blurb, you are astonished at the speed by which Bennett moves from the impersonal object of a “shutter” to the personal object of “the self” and then to a direct address of the reader: “You are broken, yet the soul sings its song.“ This teaser hints of your journey in reading the work.

Finally you explore the interior. The first page is a gold leaf, hinting of something special to come. Pages of this chapbook number just 14 but they pack a wallop, starting with the epigraph from a quarter-century ago. Marion Kimes seems to have predicted the women’s marches with this poem organized around fear—both the paralysis and finding movement through it. “I’m turning & lifting feet / the right the left the right the left / surely the body will follow the mind”

Now come the really juicy bits. Under “One,” the first line in this book addresses the reader, naming the source of a fear. “There is an outlaw living in your house.” Way to grab your attention! You are grateful when the story lightens up. The outlaw “brought his laundry.” Ha. You know that feeling of an unwelcome house guest. You relax, unaware of the trap to come. The poet seamlessly moves from “he” to “they” as she expertly catalogs the domestic habits of outlaws. You are sucked in, remembering the habits of the outlaws in your life, saying their names in your mind, recalling that new romance, that tentacle tongue. “[Y]ou have decided the outlaw can provide. This is what he can do for you…. / You forgive him….” Even if whiskey was outside your experience, even if George Michael was more real than the lizard king, it all rings true.

Two begins the same way, building on the deception. “There is an outlaw living in your house.” You roll to the thrum of the music on the page. Then you read of Kurosawa epics and Kahlua, the shaking hands. You start to feel uncomfortable. You thought this was going to be a sex-filled romp in the woods but now the poet has cast her spell and you’ve become an elegant bum. “It feels natural for you to serve him. It is his gift to you, this naturalness.” You scan the pages—there are eight sections. What has the poet planned for you? You rush back to find your place and keep reading.

That outlaw-in-your-house beginning again graces the tops of three and four too, and you hum to the loll of the rhythm, even as the darkness expands till you are gasping for breath. The outlaw “offers you the silt of this lover” and you feel “love like a shutter over your soul.” It is as if the door is closing on your bursting heart of desire. The particulars of this human experience differ from yet mirror yours. In the later sections, you are wholly unprepared for the “loud juicy smack” for that “stage of your ruin.” Unprepared and expectant at the same time, like the door closing on desire. At the end of the book you learn that the first step is the task to do before anything else can be done. The first step is acceptance.

Finally you realize that the poet has misled you. This work has nothing to do with failed romance. The work asks: Are you ready to travel into the dark, to feel the shape of your carried poison, and to transform it into something new? Your sovereignty awaits.


  1. This review makes me want to read “Snake Medicine (First Step” soon! I, too, want to be an “elegant bum.”

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