Southern Legitimacy Statement: In the forgotten parts of Louisiana, where there are more trees than swamp, my great grandfather really did put snapping turtles in his cattle gaps— much to my mother’s and aunt’s horror.
Scooter Ray’s pawpaw filled the cattle gaps with snapping turtles and Joe Ellen, whose momma never wanted her, would force Scooter Ray’s smoothed yellow petal fingertips between the spaces of the railing the sun savored biting pieces of carnival decay into. The green-red beasts below would whirl their heads in vengeance as Joe Ellen told Scooter Ray, who cried mint sick drops the way his pawpaw spit tobacco at him for, not to be scared because God was there.
Because God was all around us, Joe Ellen would reason, He had no choice but to wrap Himself deep and dirty between the steel where newly turned blackberry speckled calves with sweet-gum noses snapped their ankles and wept as they watched their hooves be devoured by the sacred.
Scooter Ray lowered his hand between the gaps after slabs of pig fat left a little too long in the cast iron caught fire and feasted on the half-rotted wood of the only home he’d ever known. The flames took the Twist and Shouts and the jeans with prayer circle indented backs and left the nativity set with the peeling yellow tag and a light that wasn’t finished eating. Face carved out like his pawpaw’s cypress table and clothes singed with the brimstone of bible stories meant to scar, he looked for what should always be there in the slim faces of angry jaws.