By Mitchell Jacobs
Featured art: Alligators by John Singer Sargent
The attendant hands him a soda and turns her back, thinking
of straws—how she’s running low, and their candy-red stripes,
and the way everything here comes wrapped up in paper, and
then a 3½-foot alligator is clawing the air.
As if she pressed
the wrong button on the register. Or maybe, during lunch rush,
she’d ignored an oncoming hurricane tossing them about.
In any case, she shrieks, finding for this alligator non sequitur
no earthly explanation. Back when the heavens functioned
with less subtlety, she might have turned to the logic of myth.
The god of rapacity took the shape of a lizard
to penetrate the food hall’s oil-glossed aperture.
Perhaps the oracle of Jupiter, FL on his faux-leather throne
delivers this cold-blooded message to confront corporate greed
teeth to teeth.
Not that the police have succeeded
in extracting a motive. The culprit’s Frosty-smeared lips are sealed.
His charge: assault with a deadly weapon. Yet it rings untrue.
For Florida Man, we need a more particular punishment:
accused of wielding a projectile reptile,
the defendant shall be flung naked
into the Loxahatchee Slough.
If indeed he is a criminal, there will be no proper dunking.
If he is a hero, he will don no duckweed laurel as he rises
from the mud. But the surveillance camera remembers:
it’s not so wide, the gap between the actual and the possible.
About the space from Nissan Frontier to take-out window
where an alligator, bewildered, sees the kitchen’s steam
like fog over a marsh in red bloom, smells the billows
of meaty fragrance, hears the gatekeeper’s yodel of welcome,
and for a moment
Mitchell Jacobs is a poet from Minnesota, now living in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in journals such as Gulf Coast, Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and Slice. His poems have also been featured in the Best New Poets 2019 anthology and on The Slowdown podcast with Tracy K. Smith.
Originally published in NOR 22.