Poetic License: ‘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 harvest,
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 whirled suddenly
over the Cayman Islands –
the Weather Channel oracles 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.
Orlando or Miami?
I guessed right and fled over Alligator Alley
to the posh sanctuary of the Hotel Calypso
in Miami, lounging 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,
tearing off roofs, crushing homes,
collapsing pool cages, and for the longest time
darkening my island so that I could not return.
We waited for hours 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 –
The house I had abandoned to the storm
greeting me like a battered child smiling weakly
at a deadbeat father, I wondered,
From Eden to Hades in a Huracn minute,
could Paradise be regained?
Then Huracn spit Frances toward Florida.
On the Weather Channel, I watched her spiral
toward the East Coast – a buxom Category 4 daughter.
It was time to flee to 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.