Bread On The Water
And grew up with nothing solid beneath her feet but the backs of alligators.
She didn't realize that the only reason they didn't devour her
Was because they couldn't reach her.
She liked to pretend they were gondolas,
And that she was in Venice.
Great white herons were the clouds in her Italian sky,
Cicadas her Vivaldi.
When she grew up, she was a woman nearly always alone,
Blind to kindness--
Even her own.
"See how beautiful their teeth are," she would say of the alligators.
"Triangular, like the points of stars."
To hear her tell it,
They were constellations,
Not glinty-eyed fat-bellied reptiles floating like driftwood in the filthy water.
When they needed it, she would tend to them like a mother,
Binding their wounds,
Sharing her own food.
Our Lady of The Gators,
Praying in the middle of a thunderstorm,
For their hurts to heal.
She was born in the cypress knees,
And looking up into the canopy, she believed herself to be very small,
Hardly there at all.
On the day that the ranger from the Parks Department arrived in a noisy craft that looked like a giant window fan,
She could not speak to her;
She had only ever heard the hissing of the gators when they squabbled.
The woman with the yellow patch on her sleeve may as well have been speaking Martian when she said,
"Oh honey. What has been goin' on here?"
On the day that she left,
Strapped into a seat on the giant window fan,
The alligators only blinked impassively or grinned from a patch of harsh afternoon light,
Indifferent right down to their rotten green bones.
Marveling even in half-sleep at the softness of her lover's enfolding arms,
Tears rolled sideways across her cheek and the bridge of her nose in the darkness.
No war bride ever felt as displaced nor as happy.
Our Lady Of The Alligators,
It will be all right now.
You have come home, like a little swallow;
Like a silkworm on a white mulberry leaf;
You have floated here, not as the gators do,
But, sweet girl,
As bread on the water.