“Snakes In The ‘Hood”, a poem…..

part of hte painted over Artist’s Statement

Second half of vandalized mural

One half of the vandalized Mural by artist Pierre Roti

This short poem came about because of an argument in SW Atlanta about a mural. It was done by a French muralist, Piere Roti, (commissioned by Living Walls.org) and though a complex allegory, it was beautiful, significant and full of symbolism. Piere Roti also left an “Artist’s Statement at the beginning of this very long mural on a blank wall on University Avenue. It was in French, and was painted over.

This wall was generaly laden with gang grafitti and nothing else. We were all excited to see this acclaimed international artist paint this over the month of August in full southern sun. It is complex and needs a lot of contemplation to understand the message, but again, there was little chance of that happening because of the actions of some very backward people with an agenda.

Some so-called community leaders and some church memebers took it into their own hands, without any considerations except that they ‘found the mural to be demonic, satanic” and covered this mural with grey paint. Others within this community got out there with buckets of water and scrub brushes to attempt to restore this mural.

What will happen to the mural is up in the air right now. However, it points to an issue in general about public art and what is accepted.

This struggle isn’t over and there are plenty of lessons to go around. But whether people on both sides listen is up in the air.

Lady Nyo


“When people see a snake, they think a serpent.

When they think serpent, they see Satan”

….former State Rep. Douglas Dean, Atlanta

Oh, my dear garden snakes,
Run and hide in the leaf litter!
You appear each spring as if birthed from that old stump,
Your beautiful duns and browns and moss greens
Intermingling with last year’s fallen leaves.

I remember wearing you as divine jewelry
Around my slender wrists as a child.
You terrified the adults
but transformed me into Cleopatra.

I remember a box under my bed
Disturbed by a dust mop,
And a dozen of you slithered out
Felt the 200 year old wooden floors,
Cold on your bellies.
The handler of the dust mop screamed
And I never could find you all.
Did you disappear out that window
Where you would have dropped 30 feet to the ground?

I mourned for those missing
And learned adults didn’t have the tolerance
Of children for the miracles of nature.

Later I remember eating blackberries from
A stand of rambling bushes,
Warmed by the July sun
Of the North Carolina mountains
And below me a cotton mouth doing the same.

I backed up out of fear and respect,
But the blackberries were good
And enough to share.

I remember the black racers
That hung in the pine trees
And we, daring each other
To run under them,
Hoping one of us would get squeezed
In your embracing coils
But it never happened.
You knew our game.

In other cultures you snakes
Symbolized the umbilical cord
Joining all humans to Mother Earth.

In ancient Crete
You were the guardians
Of the Goddess’ great mysteries
Of birth and regeneration.

The Hopi Indians
Joined the snake of the Sky Spirit
With the snake of the Earth
And dancing with them in great reverence,
Loosened them into the fields
Where the golden corn was growing
To bless and secure their fertility.

No garden hoe will touch you,
My dear little garden snakes,
No stoning of your innocence,
I will gather your twine-ing bodies
And lift you above the ignorance of bigotry.

They violate their God’s dictates
“Even to the lesser of you amongst us”
And you, without limbs or voice are surely that.

If not beloved by God, surely you will be beloved by me.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2012

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25 Responses to ““Snakes In The ‘Hood”, a poem…..”

  1. marilyncavicchia Says:

    I like this a lot! So many wonderful, vivid memories of your encounters with snakes. I love the compassionate spirit here, too. We would soon be sorry if all the snakes disappeared from the world. I think they’re beautiful, myself.


  2. Richard Cody Says:



  3. tashtoo Says:

    Oh dear…you had me all fired up long before I even got to your wonderful poem. It’s a tragedy when some chose to use holy words for their own agendas…I think you respond perfectly with your write…how very small minded to think all thoughts of serpents lead to thoughts of Satan…like God…his popularity has waned as well. Seems to happen when humans take charge…and wouldn’t we all be much easier to master surrounded by gray walls…


  4. claudia Says:

    oh heck… sometimes i just can’t believe how narrow-minded people can be…how they see only and only through their own glasses… a thought provoking write jane and a reminder to see the bigger picture


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Claudia, for reading this and your comment especially with what you have on your plate right now.

    The arrogance and ignorance on the side of these ‘church’ folk plus this community leader, Douglas Dean who was found a few years ago with cocaine in his wallet, is unbelievable. He’s a crook. Perhaps these folk on the other side….and it is by no means broken down totally on a racial level, but more cultural, etc….well, perhaps they were naive about the response of these ignorant people?
    I think they were. I think they didn’t realize the force, the power of this ignorance and hatred. Because it really comes down to fear and hatred. Fear of something they don’t understand?

    And perhaps along with naive, there was a bit of insensitivity? I do believe these (mostly white) young people, supporters of public art and artists themselves didn’t know what hornet nest they were walking into.

    But there is so much lies and distortions on the side of the vandals of this mural, it’s just sad. And you can’t trust these ‘leaders’ anymore. It’s just not worth the energy.

    And Living Walls.com might relocate to another city that doesn’t have such a stake in the ignorance of these people and ‘leadership’.

    I was boiling mad, but now? It’s the same old behavior I have seen in Atlanta for 40 years where the opposition to many things hide behind religion. Righteousness! Grab a Bible and knock the ‘unbeliever’ over the head. Kinda like the Taliban?

    This particular ‘christianity’ is about as backward as you can get….hateful, too..towards other races. And of course snakes. Poor wildlife.

    I have seen people desert the community affairs because of this constant backwardness, and it is most prominent in our so=called ‘leaders’. They are generally poverty pimps who are lining their own pockets and their followers will go no where…yet will come back and yell ‘foul’. But the ‘preachers’ will keep it going.

    Poetry is a useful tool for these issues, but then again….there is little progress here in Atlanta…just bullshit.

    Lady Nyo


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Tash, my computer is acting like a jackass…I tried three times to read your site, and no go. Thank you, Natasha for reading and your comment.

    I tried to post a really angry comment here, an it crashed. LOL! The Gods of Censor ….LOL!

    Yes, these people hide behind religion, and a very narrow christianity it is they hide behind. Come to think of it, some of them, the more pentacostal, are snake handlers! LOL! So where are snakes satanic, demonic? It’s pure unecological ignorance to think that snakes don’t have a place in the web, but then again, some of these people are ossified in the brains.

    And it has divided the communities down the middle, but not on racial lines…there are some who have stepped away from the ignorance and arrogance of these others. But unfortunately, this behavior isn’t rare here in Atlanta. Atlanta is NOT an International city, it’s a cultural bog. And these people make damn sure it remains so.

    the lies and distortions coming out of these few destroyers of the mural woould gaga a maggot. So be it. The rest of us will continue to make our art, create our poetry and we can ignore their religious and cultural backwardness. It’s all fueled by their hatred of other cultures. And their fear.

    And we don’t have to continue to clean up their damn dirty streets.

    Lady Nyo…who is rather pissed right now.


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Isn’t it funny, Marilyn what we do as children? I wouldn’t necessarily twine snakes around my wrists now! LOL!

    but they certainly aren’t satanic or demonic. I would say that these people who destroyed this commissioned art work are those who are satanic…or plumb crazy. Let’s settle on ignorant and certainly not extending themselves to art. LOL!

    Thank you for reading and also for your comment. I’ll read your blog tomorrow when my eyes focus better.

    Lady Nyo


  8. brian miller Says:

    ugh that sucks on the mural…i dont understand some people…funny my piece tomorrow resonates a bit…why they have to go out of their way to piss people off in the name of love….love the bit in your verse about the blackberry bush as i think it captures my belief in life which is there is enough to share…no matter who you are…


  9. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Brian…it’s not in the name of love…it’s in the name of power and hatred. Hatred of others they don’t want in their neighobrhoods, and fear of any new ideas. And these people live and die in this closed off ‘society’. They culturally segregate themselves.

    After 40 years in the south, I have learned so much about folk.

    The mural. It’s so sad, because the Artist’s Statement explained what it was all about. And these morons painted over it. They not only censored the mural with their gray paint, but they made damn sure that nobody could read that statement…

    Now, I don’t know how many people have seen the City of Atlanta sanctioned public art, but there is a strip of it right in the busiest part of Atlanta. Concrete blobs that some stupid woman here said was ‘folk art’. IF I was a folk artist I would be insulted. But these pastel painted blobs of concrete were atrocious, but so fucking safe. They are ridiculous, but they are exactly the level of Atlanta.

    Atlanta doesn’t deserve Pierre Roti’s murals. Atlanta doesn’t deserve anything that makes the masses think. Ahhhh….makes my bile build.

    And yes, Brian, there is plenty for us to share with wildlife and other deserving folk. I’m just tired of the morons running the institution.




  10. Steve Elsaesser Says:

    Hi Jane!
    Several times (in comments) you write of “these Christians who hide behind their religion…” But ya KNOW they are NOT Christians, because they do not follow the Christ of Peace, Justice, Mercy, Who died horribly for them. Christians? Nah!

    Snakes: I remember–as a child–writing a short poem once, a conversation in which a Peep finally brags to the Master, “I have never hurt any living thing–not even a fly (snake?)”

    And the Master said, “Well, good for you–grin! BUT, have you ever HELPED one?”

    Nice to “see” you, Lady Jane.


  11. ayala Says:

    This is great…and I just love this…Later I remember eating blackberries from
    A stand of rambling bushes,
    Warmed by the July sun
    Of the North Carolina mountains
    And below me a cotton mouth doing the same……

    I feel like I am in the poem watching 🙂


  12. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Ayala…..That’s a good thing!!

    And thank you for reading and your kind comment.



  13. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Steve, you are right, but I’m so knocked in the head by these people…who claim that they are sanctified and saved as Christians. They make no distinctions about what they do. Because they believe whatever they do is right…because they have “God” on their side. Ugh. No different from the insanity and ignorance of the Taliban. Cultural terrorism here.

    I run from this theology, Steve. And they do hide behind their theology. They may not be Christians, but they sure confuse the issue for all others…and that is the danger of what they do. They jump out and proclaim themselves as such, and leave confusion in their wake. No different than the behavior of some Orthodox Jews, Muslims, etc. Backwardness and narrowness is bred from hatred and power mongering…not love. Or God.

    for those of us who are struggling to understand these points of any religion, they mess it up.

    And to vandalize a mural with no prior consultation, and to justify it ‘because we can’…well, it’s just….bullyism of the highesst degree…Goes beyond their claim of Christianity.

    Good distinction you make, Friend Steve on hurting and helping. One passive and one active.

    Nice to see you too, Steve.



  14. ManicDdaily Says:

    This is actually one reason for living in NYC! People disagree about a lot of things, but actually are pretty good about street art. Although the NYPD are not so happy when they find some big python or boa in an apartment. (Which happens with amazing regularity.)

    People are just nutso. I mean I don’t care much for rats and mice but I wouldn’t mind them on a symbolic level – painted! (I think of people cutting certain parts of the Nutcracker!)

    Your poem is good though. I love picturing even way back when with a box of snakes under the bed! (Ha!)

    I’m so sorry I haven’t gotten around to the review – anyone reading this buy Jane Kohut Bartels’ book, “A Seasoning of Lust”! It is a great, fun, and absorbing read!

    (My life is beset. I am an attorney – you may know – extremely busy right now.) k.


  15. ladynyo Says:

    Oh K! LOL! I never expected you to write a review of Seasoning of Lust! LOL! It was my first book and has problems…as you can guess! I am just delighted that you bought it and liked it!

    A few, elderly women…like my mother and her 80 plus year old friends, a female rabbi and a nun were scandalized! Porn!!! Unremitting porn. But they generally liked the Japanese Lady Nyo poems. go figure. LOL!

    The Mural. Well that is the difference between the better educated north and the provincial south. And that these church goers are a bastion of ignorance and arrogance can’t be denied…Or at least I won’t.

    Admittedly, that mural was complex and took some investigation to understand. And perhaps it would have helped to hold more meetings besides the NPU meetings to ‘explain’ it to this mostly uneducated community, but I doubt it. They just saw a serpent and well, you know. Knee jerk behavior.

    People are just nutso. LOL! I think I will adopt that as my new personal slogan.

    and Public, street art is a querulous thing indeed.

    Thanks for reading and your comment, K.



  16. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Richard. I am glad that I am old enough to suffer the stupid slings and arrows coming my way. Expected it, too. Got to stand for something.



  17. hedgewitch Says:

    Ah, Jane–we live in a time of idealogues and religionists(fanatics, not people of faith, but of the tribe) and the world suffers. Intolerance and ignorance want to spread a grey coat of paint over everything that isn’t them–annihilate the world of ideas, because it threatens them so. I don’t understand it, but your poem lovingly points out all the ways we should respect and link with other living things, instead of ignoring or destroying them for profit or out of fear. Thanks for speaking out about this–I find snakes fascinating and beautiful also. Evil is in the eye of the beholder.


  18. ladynyo Says:

    You got it, Hedge! I wonder when we die..that very second when we lose consciousness, do we see grey? Is a coat of grey spread over our eyes?

    These people are exactly that: fanatics. Ignorant, bullying fanatics, but it comes from the greatest of narrowness. These people segregate themselves from everything that they don’t understand or are too stupid to attempt. It’s just mule-ish behavior on the part of these fanatics. (with apologies to Mules, who are more intelligent than many folk)

    No, these people who would paint over a message that they fear and don’t understand, are acting out of intolerance. They of course, don’t see this, but it is just that. But fear is what is driving them…and hatred is what comes about from this fear.

    too bad these mostly nice people have such corrupted (and calculating) leaders and preachers.

    I have more faith in the snakes in the ground than these Shakes in the ‘Hood. LOL! they might bite my ankles, but they won’t stab me in the back.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Hedge! We have so much to be thankful for, in spite of the stupidity and greed of the world.



  19. apshilling Says:

    Hey Lady 🙂

    I like the subject and you deliver the background well in the round.
    Your Po unearths the ridiculous nature of such a statement(snakes and satan) in a V cute and smart way and with grace too . . . if a little (deserved venom:) . . . small minded people and art are a bad mix – add religion to the pot and BAM!

    i had an issue over here regarding public nudity and a conceptual ‘happening’ . . . the arguments against are so backward and angry . . .

    nice to read you 🙂


  20. ladynyo Says:

    Hi APShilling!

    First, thank you for subscribing to my blog. I will do the same with yours.

    At first, I wondered about my venom….not in the poem, but in my answers to comments…but hell. they deserve it. These people are a bastion of backwardness and for decades my life in Atlanta has been diminished by their ignorance. My grown son’s life, too. They are just louder and more unprincipled than the opposition. LOL!

    I generally avoid these religious morons because of this, (and I have them in my own family) because of this, and of course, they aren’t interested in poetry. But when they intrude with their religious and cultural ignorance into the art scene, then I get rolling.

    Things done change in any society unless people are challenged to THINK outside the box they live in…

    What was this issue of public nudity that you had to wrestle with? Am curious, as it’s always an issue…but violence and murder isn’t. Go figure.

    And thanks for reading and your insightful comment.

    Lady Nyo (Jane)


  21. laura hegfield Says:

    oh Jane… this is beautiful… I actually say a little prayer when I see a snake squashed on the back roads where I sometimes walk in the summer… how sad when art is not appreciated… the thing is it does not need to be “understood” to be appreciated… a misconception about art in any form lost on far too many people… I mean we see a blade of grass with dew drops, an outcropping of rock in a certain light, the feathers of a bird on the ground… do we need to understand them to experience them in a profound way… and you made so many good points about snakes and their mystique in various cultures… sad really, don’t you think?


  22. ladynyo Says:

    Dear Laura…you have deepened this conversation with your comment about how art doesn’t need to be understood to be appreciated. I didn’t think of that!

    And yes, it is sad, because someone’s very hard and thoughtful work was destroyed by forces of deep set ignorance. It isn’t that you have to ‘like’ it, but respect it….however, some people complained that they weren’t consulted about the mural. Not everyone can be consulted, but the main people…this ‘leadership’ was. And it’s such a big ball of wax.

    I really appreciate the poets here and the artists out there because this has brought so much home to me.

    Next week, dear Laura…I will post a poem called “The Fox” which is an ecological statement…and happened a few weeks ago. I had to make a stand …mostly with myself.

    Blessings on you, Laura! Is it too late for me to contribute to your ‘quilt’ of thanksgiving?



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  24. Luella Says:

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  25. ladynyo Says:

    I really don’ tknow what to tell you, Luella. Thank you though, for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


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