Swerve

Swerved from an outboard motor,

the alligator followed our clumsy navigation

with his snub muzzle, our escort

on the swamp tour along corridors

of cyprus and Spanish moss.  The marshes

lay quiet against the murmur of the locusts

and the vibrations of the thronging tree frogs.

A blue heron, stiff with disinterest,

courted fish in the shallows.  We fed

the alligator our sandwiches to see him

open his toothy jaws.  Afterwards, he sunk

into the tannic black. The muggy heat drugged our caution,

and we dipped wrists and ankles into the cool water,

trailed our fingers to hear the ripples.

When our time was up on the rusted boat rental,

we carefully made our way to the dock.

Once out and safe, our rugged guide resurfaced from underneath

the algae mire  and shook the murk of the everglades

From the mountain ridges patterning his spine.  

Aloof, he moored himself on the roots

of a nearby cyprus tree and watched while

we recovered our fear.


The Sea Park

It’s just so much

scuttlebutt and scrimshaw,

the rumor about the lady who lost

her arm in the shark exhibit.  There are no

big movie sharks here.  They’re all too mean

and hungry to survive

in beautiful blue pools.  (The biologists know.  They’ve tried.

Think of the crowds who’d come.)

But the little ones are deadly enough,

with their stuck on eyes and razor frowns.

Even we walk carefully through the glass tunnel

while the sharks sweep around and above us.

My daughter, recognizing the same

vicious fish that hang from the ceilings of

seafood eateries, still thinks sharks

fly.  Once out, everyone pauses for

a breath and a picture under the sign,

“I’ve been through the Tunnel of Death”.

From there we flow into the afternoon arena,

each child hugging their stuffed orca, sipping

juice from a plastic dolphin or eating ocean predator candy

to watch the trainer (who can’t get life insurance and hides

scars beneath his wetsuit) blow his whistle,

tote buckets of dead fish,

shake the tongue of a killer whale.


Travels

By air

 

Forty thousand feet high and dry streams

feather the desert below.  Sharp ridges

spine the dust, then curve to nowhere.

Small planes scurry along opposite

junctures beneath this large craft;

its hulk plows the sky, leaving

one white furrow.

Only the wind lives in that desert, I think,

ocean of silt, blown from

more than four corners.

I see no roads from here.

The sun’s blank gaze

bears quiet witness to lost waters.

 

Then the lift and clouds seam

the horizon. Where I am could be

anywhere.


 

By sea

 

My horizon winds along coastal dunes,

touchstones of the ripening dusk.

The clear cold waters bring news of the seasons;

urgent jetties set the otters to sway

tethered on ropes of kelp.

Junipers lunge towards the hills

studded with wild grass and rosemary.

Oaks surrender their acorns to the

rumor of winter.

The leaves are burnt out and skeptical gulls

pester the boardwalk for trash.

Sea lions rest their bulk on the docks,

bellow their outrage.

Fishing boats, mute and gray,

Usher in the fog along the low mountains.

A seabird cries for me, far out

over the night sea.

 

By land

 

Midnight tilts the Big Dipper,

pours heartbreak over the Broken Spur Motel.

The road acts as confessor to a jaded moon,

then lights gold reflectors like votives around the

broken town named anywhere.

I know my sins and am not proud.


Alice Mills, a professor of many things but mainly writing, currently serves a host of splendid students at a small college in central Georgia.  She earned her MFA from the University of California, Irvine.  She writes poetry for many reasons, all of which remain better unsaid.  Her most recent work is featured in the 2 River View and Metonym.