Alligator in the Sky
Tainos were the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Puerto Rico and the West Indies. Huracn (hoo-rah-kn),
from which our English word hurricane is derived,
was their god of wind and chief enforcer.
When they were still a people,
the Tainos of Borinquen believed
the Milky Way was a giant alligator sprawled across the inverted belly of night.
That was why I sat uneasy
at the Sanibel Island Council meeting while they voted to “harvest” the alligators
for killing two of our islanders —
surely warranted, even inevitable,
the removal decision still smelled of revenge.
I knew that Huracn, quick to anger,
had not disappeared with the Tainos
who worshipped him but still smoldered
every summer in the cauldron seas
off West Africa — looking for excuses
to spawn and spin furious offspring toward
the New World that had tried to displace him.
And so a few days after the first harvests,
I watched the Weather Channel as Huracn
spit two wild children, Bonnie and Charley
into the boiling Atlantic to search and destroy
the Milky Way profaners of Southwest Florida.
Bonnie missed the target,
my uneasiness eased for a few hours
but then on the Doppler screen
her brother Charley stopped tumbling after her
and whirled suddenly over the Cayman Islands –
the Weather Channel oracles, like Bohique priests
explaining ominously: “Every major hurricane
to hit Florida must pass over Hebert Box Two,
or the Cayman Islands” but they all failed to mention:
Cayman was the Spanish word for alligator.
Like Cyclops chasing Odysseus,
Charley, his ever-tightening dreadful eye
flailing maelstroms of fury around him,
raced straight toward me and Southwest Florida.
I guessed right and fled over Alligator Alley
to the posh sanctuary of the Hotel Calypso
in Miami, lounging among the bikinied nymphs,
hermaphrodites and satyrs of South Beach
in cowardly luxury
by the stagnant 400 foot “Infinity” pool
while Charley roared ashore in vengeful fury
behind torrents of horizontal rain,
whacking down every Australian pine
daring to stand up to him,
forcing palm trees to their knees,
collapsing pool cages, tearing off roofs,
crushing homes, and for the longest time
darkening my island so that I could not return.
The Civic Gods gave permission and we waited
on the long line to the causeway
to behold the ravishment of our island
by Charley, Huracn’s son –
her flora dress rudely torn and stripped,
the once lush green body of Sanibel
left brown and naked
to the hot peering eye of post-hurricane sun,
then violated further by grapplers, cherry pickers,
backhoes and chainsaws –
From Eden to Hades in a Huracn minute,
I wondered – could Paradise be regained?
The house I had abandoned to the storm
greeted me like a battered child smiling weakly
at a deadbeat father. Without power,
it would not let me stay under its roof
for more than an hour and I was lucky to find
a motel room in town from where I could visit
my house and still hide from Huracn.
Then Huracn spit Frances toward Florida,
On the motel TV, I watched her spiral
on the Weather Channel toward the East Coast –
a buxom Category 4 daughter. It was time to get
some warmer clothes from the house
and flee to where Huracn could not reach me –
the stone and steel sanctuary of Manhattan Island.
Huracn kept pursuing and raging
with two more blockbuster children:
Ivan turning twice into the northern Gulf
to liberate alligators from the zoos
in Alabama and Jeanne drenching
and flooding everything in her path
from Florida to New England, neither aware
that in between their landfalls
I had sneaked back to rebuild my island.
As I opened my house for the third time,
a sudden gust of wind rattled my torn pool cage.
On the golf pond behind my house
an unharvested alligator navigated nervously,
as if he knew what I knew –
on our island, very soon, there would only be
one giant alligator in the sky.