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.
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
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.
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.