A. N. Lawrence
They Would Come Up From the South
Florida means flowery land. I knew two swamp flowers, sisters, and there’s a VHS of us, hand-in-hand, like a garland, singing Ring Around the Rosie. My Living with Crocodiles brochure says there are 1,500 crocodiles in Florida and that they are very shy. In photographs little flowers wave at the camera and palm trees wave too. I cut away their mother. My first kiss was beneath a squat tree when I was seven. She was seven, too. The tall embankment’s soft tufts were rabbit tails, and I pulled away, wounded even by such a tender gesture. She had nightmares about crocodiles and the crocodile’s terrible smile. She always wanted to kiss. And she asks if I do this with my mother too and she tells me not to tell, but that it is fun, but that also crocodiles can climb into bedrooms at night, scale the siding. I read about Ammit, soul-eater, crocodylidae are nocturnal and so are you, aren’t you? And I read in the ancient Kahun Medical Papyrus that to mix sour milk with the excrement of crocodiles was a method of contraception. And I ask the pages about mothers whose hearts are rotten, and I say, Ammit, when her heart is lifted from the rickety scales and is given to you to devour, I am sorry for how that must taste. And I read about the crocodile gods and the city and the long painted death mask for the sacred beast. I rewind the VHS tape and we all fall down and I think about what the little Rosies say, that a mother can note to the children that they should be good girls, and can point to the siding, like a pile of black shimmery sand sitting in tuft grass, that indeed, crocodiles have been on the roof, like overgrown, less colorful geckos. And that children should watch for the tooth of the crocodile because it is hollow and can carry many things, like the teeth or eyes or hearts of children.
Animals We Pretended to Be
I want to come out from under the table, where we used to brush powder pink ponies. Optical fibers made your face glow like Tang. I want to sweep away the plastic bedrock of deflated inflatables. We took our milk under there. We took our dirty knees. I am a horse. I am a neigh horse under the table. What I remember of dad are his shoes on the sticky linoleum. Ketchup gummy on the chair legs, ladybug’s blood. I want to come out from under the table to the chicken coop where you squished bread through wire, and the disinterested hens would cluck away. You’d say, I am bawk chicken. Bawk. And nibble the bread and you’d open your mouth wide so I could see the snow bank in your mouth. And up the hill, on the farm, the mounds of corn and grain were not mounds of corn and grain, but were the lost teeth of songbirds, and we found them, and we were birds that could sing Elvis Presley songs. But back under the table you guessed that if we never came out we’d curve our spines and grow and grow until the table burst like a cocoon or egg and chirp chirp and you’d slurp a gummy worm after dunking it in your water. I want to come out. Crawl out with me, the kids table, where we pretend as a theory of mind. Crawl out from the black box of memory and be the animal sister again, be sister and howl howl howl.
When We Lived in Paducah
behind the possumhaw holly ran away when the
rain came. That's how you began,
When we lived in Paducah.
The coffee pot sputtered an incantation.
Great Granny slung a chicken around and
around when we lived in Paducah.
You flung heavy curtains
to let light in the modest brown house, revealing
the flat green yard, slick puddles
of septic leaching.
A hot smell of methane.
Roses cut along the perimeter. Rain drenched aphid bitten
blooms, to tell me your mother, my great grandmother,
planted the source root. That's why they come back
year after year.
I can see the you in the rowboat.
I can see the you in the handmade frock,
only three feet tall in the tall unforeseeable.
Paducah was completely underwater, a flood up to Chief
Paduke's headdress made of stone
and all the things you loved handed over to the rain.
And sixty years later, I tell you, When I was twelve the mud
river swallowed my bed and my diaries. The hog red-lipped
from holly berries got sick,
and the rain didn't always nourish what we wanted it to, and
thorns can sprout along all kinds of perimeters.
But along the sandy shore, a sodden book
with its spine split back in two, the one
with our name inside.