The Alligator Handler by Wendy Taylor Carlisle
The alligator handler is grappling, counting the scales on the galloper under him, when he first hears it. He clamps down harder on the colossal mouth, trying to decide—is it coming from under him or is it air escaping from an eighteen-wheeler’s tires, an FM breeze off the freeway, brakes? All around the air syncopates, rhythmic, harmonic, with just a touch of do-wo, urging, “Loosen up. Enjoy the ride.” He catches the beat; bobs his head to saucy, saurian rock n’ roll.
When this gator still had an egg tooth, every Gold Coast kid kept a hatchling in a fish tank on the painted bedroom dresser. Hunkered next to the tube radio, tiny scales decorated with, Souvenir of Florida! Florida Gator!, they outgrew their aquariums hormoned by the Big Bopper, chords covering them like paint. Set free later, the half-grown ‘gators were veneered with R & B. On any post-fifties day, in burrows and holes across the swamp the Alligator Show modulates—belly crawlers and high walkers harmonizing in a wild, wailed melody. Sibilance circles every new-hatched pod. White cranes and pelicans tick over into their own sha na na. Every crusty body croons.
No matter if he ever figures it out. No matter how the big bull, ‘Gold Coast Champ,’ flaking off his scales, Elvis in his heart, tempts him. The handler, listening hard for Slim Harpo, is hanging up his leather gloves. Now he longs only to relax in silt up to his tattoos, to rumble the be bop, hiss the shoop shoop, tune his swampy soul until a choir reaches up & pulls him in.
This poem appears in pigironmalt online journal. From Discount Fireworks, Jakaranda Press. 2008. Winner of the Bernice Blackgrove Award of Excellence, 2008.