Bread On The Water

She was born in the cypress knees,

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.

Months later,

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.


Mojo said…
I wonder why the ranger thought she had to "save" her? Why not leave well enough alone?

Let her be who she is, where she is.

Daryl said…
So is the ranger her lover?
ellen abbott said…
I just don't know what to say except I love your writing.

TALON said…
Ungrateful gators! Loved this poem, Shay. Like a duck out of water...
Anonymous said…
This made me think of the little girl that was left for dead in the swamp recently, and she was found alive. Thanks for the link I enjoyed Tabitha bird too!
Anonymous said…
I could hear the roar of the airboat, carrying her away from home. If ever there was proof that a wild thing didn't need 'saving'...

This is fierce.
Riot Kitty said…
Again, loss for words, but I love yours.
Ileana said…
Wow, what an ending! I want to see this one in a picture book (but then I always say that about your poems!).
Unknown said…
I'm Baaaack....did you miss me, I missed you and this is the very reason why...this poem and the essence of what it is that we give without thinking to those who would eat us, but when we are gone...we miss and feel lost...oh i know this feeling and these tears I shed while re-reading are as real as the Signora of the Alligators I hope she finds her way home.
Love you sister.
Cloudia said…
So much richness in your words...

Aloha from Hawaii

Comfort Spiral
mac said…
She rescued the Ranger...and she did it all without saying a word :-)
Shadow said…
rescue, exquisite in form and words! but did she need rescue i wonder...
Mama Zen said…
I don't have the words . . .
Lolamouse said…
Well, it's 6:30 a.m. Monday morning and I'm crying like a baby.
Semaphore said…
A mesmerizing, fantastical story that packs an emotonal punch.
. said…
Wouldn't bread on the water sink or get scooped up and eaten? The ending sounds romantic and poetic, but it speaks of being devoured to me. A delicious snack just waiting to be consumed by alligators, fish, birds, and people.

Funny how she gave them everything, even her soul, and yet they were "Indifferent right down to their rotten green bones."

I think someone born in the cypress knees doesn't exist just as an element of her environment. She is her own habitat; so even when removed and replanted, she will bloom.

I like this girl and her wild imagination. And I like you and yours.

Love the gondola section, particularly "cicadas her Vivaldi."

I think she was plucked up from living on the "wrong side of the tracks" (or the bayou) and dropped into the arms of another probable alligator, somewhere in the suburbs. But perhaps that's another tale.
Mark Windham said…
excellent story, fascinating write.
Kerry O'Connor said…
I'm such a fan of your magical realism, and this is exactly why. What a mythological tale of heroine you have spun here. I feel sorry for the left behind gators, foul green bones and shining white teeth and all.
Karen said…
A terrific write! "Cicadas her Vivaldi" favourite line.
Sherry Blue Sky said…
Oh you tell such a beautiful bittersweet catch-at-one's-heart story, kiddo. This one unrolled so beautifully. Poignant, the grateful tender "like a little swallow; like a silkworm on a white mulberry leaf". Sigh. Pure beauty.
Hannah said…
"Triangular, like the points of stars."

To hear her tell it,

They were constellations,"

I love how you describe the teeth like this and am mystified by the uniqueness in your descriptions throughout! I really enjoyed this:
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."

I'm so glad you shared this!
Our Lady of the Gators! incredible poem.wonderfully narrated.very powerful and moving.
Laura said…
so see the world with tenderness and not even recognize it in one's self...
"She was born in the cypress knees" oh and that line..."cypress knees" YOU are a master artist, yes you are!
. said…
On second thought, the alligators are probably just men.
Herotomost said…
Definitely one I would like to see turned into a short. Great story, anyt ime anyone is born in the cypress has to be a great story. Just lovely.
Timoteo said…
Amazing stuff! She reminds me of that song, "Polk Salad Annie."
hedgewitch said…
Another St Creola-like visitation, or like the Succubus one, where the little girl is finally valued, where the past becomes just so much background, back issues, and the new pages are written tenderly, in the heart of happiness. Just leaves me watching a mother animal bed down and comfort her young with that boundless, selfless, love. *sigh*
Susie Clevenger said…
What a marvelous piece...I am in awe. I stumble through my own writing and find I cannot create such as this.
Anonymous said…
It's almost the bizarro version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", but with predators and sharp teeth. Odd in the best sense of the word, almost eerie.
Unknown said…
wow. fantastic read. I love the tale and the details in here, like the triangularity of the teeth, the seed you planted early about not being able to reach here, the cicadas song, the impassive blinking of the gators…fantastic job. thanks
Mary said…
This poem carried me along from start to finish. Your imaginative and creative writing is such a gift.
Marian said…
oh honey, what HAS been going on here? that's the heart of it, isn't it? love this.
Karen said…
This left me with one thoight...more, please!
Karen said…
...and that probably left you with one: Proofread!
Margaret said…
The cicadas her vivaldi ... Our Lady of The Gators,

Fabulous words, imaginative rendering... how do you do it? and yes, she did need saving. Those gators had (have) no heart.
Mystic_Mom said…
Oh! Oh! Oh! It takes my breath away...this is perfection!

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