Snake Charmer

from The Storm in Our Head by Kathleen Dunbar

  • Streaming + Download

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
    Purchasable with gift card

      $1 USD  or more



Snake Charmer
By Kathleen Dunbar
Copyrighted by Kathleen Dunbar

I have handled snakes.
Bet you didn’t know that.
I have pulled out whole baskets full of them
in the company of a preacher man.
And lo, look at what this woman can do
when the faith of god is moving in her
when the power of Jesus is represented, he’d say.
And all I did really is pull off the top
reach my hand in
and talk to that wicker bucket full of poison
saying calm yourselves now, ladies and gentlemen
(meaning the snakes, not the audience)
here come my two arms like snakes themselves
and we are going to get all wound up around one another
and have a little fun.
We are going to put on a show
for the gentle folks of this audience
who have come to see wonder and hope
revealed in outrageous acts.
Jesus is who they’ll pin it on
as he is the common and acceptable vehicle
to drive the dreariness out of their days and souls.
Me, I don’t give a damn about Jesus one way or another.
I don’t even care about the preacher man.
He took me to his bed
whispered about the power of god and such
as he was working at me with his own version
of glory.
He wasn’t bad
(considering it was hard times)
but I’ve had better, more wild and tender.
I knew a cowboy who was also an Indian
who could calm a horse
by laying on his hands and speaking.
And if you ask me, that is where the spirit lives
in the laying on of hands on people and creatures
so that their fears blow away like powder in a wind
and they don’t have to fight anymore for tenderness
and the one with the laying-on hands does not require
their souls in return
but offers his touch as an act as automatic and healing
as drinking water
or breathing
and can do it with a vision of someone who can say
it can be like this, and knows it.
That is what I believe and that is the truth.
But I was low on money
and that is one thing that will compel a person into
all sort of acts.
So, there was the preacher man and there was I
standing in front of the pickle barrel
in the one store in town on a day hot as a furnace.
Why are you here, child, he said
but I knew he meant woman, really
by the way he looked me up and down.
I said I am here in this Godforsaken town
wondering what I will do for sustenance.
Godforsaken indeed, he said
there is money to be made if—if you have the talent.
Now I have plenty of talent
looks being one of thing
and a whole armful of others I learned from
my kin and luck and my body.
I could go pretty far if I didn’t always
hold myself back by small thinking.
You know, the kind of poverty view
that can only see itself through
the end of the month, or week, or day.
If I could see bigger
I could find a place to stay
and a man to do it with
and we’d make a bed to lie down in and get up in
for as many breakfasts as two lives could hold.
But my problem is small seeing
so I ended up with the preacher
in the second best hotel, told him about the snakes
after we had finished.
He said, I knew you would be of profound use
in the service of God.
Well, first I had to get the snakes
and being summer they were all about
on the hot desert.
I gathered them up in a sack I kept handy
and took ‘em back to town, careful they didn’t
have the chance to bite the horse
and I stowed them in Indian baskets.
We traveled and I am the one who drew them in
one-third of the money was for me
two-thirds to him for the wagon and tent
and the audacity of his oration.
Now, the preacher knew he was not the lure to keep me long.
I went on for a while because it felt better than worse
and it was lucrative.
But when I figured I had enough money
(for what I didn’t know)
I got up one morning while the preacher slept
and I had been dreaming about the cowboyindian
with the hands that were true
and I made a wish on the dawn star in his sweet name.
That is, the last star of night.
That is, the breakfast star.
I wished me a bigger picture.
I emptied the snakes out of the sack
when I got out of town
and stowed the sack in the saddlebag next to the money
(out of habit)
and I rode
with the memory of the eyes
of the cowboyindian for sustenance
(they were hazel)
thinking, this time I am crossing more than
the dirt river.
By god, this time
I am going into Bigger.


from The Storm in Our Head, released March 23, 2012
Katheen Dunbar/spoken word, Gawain Mathews/banjo, guitar, Rich Armstrong/trombone, Dan Feiszli/standup bass, Mary Pitchford/fiddle


all rights reserved



Kathleen Dunbar San Francisco, California

You may notice my songs are about angels and devils, birth, life, death, about creation and crumbling destruction—the troubles we humans get ourselves into and the choices we make—some of them funky, some of them ending in the dark, others rising into the light of morning. Touching, humorous, spellbinding storytelling—my songs brings you into the irony, the tragedy, and the possibilities of life. ... more

contact / help

Contact Kathleen Dunbar

Streaming and
Download help

Redeem code

Report this track or account

If you like Kathleen Dunbar, you may also like: