Father on the Alligator | James Miller

I am looking at photos of your time in California.
The war has ended. You’re the youngest in the family portrait—
fourteen, fifteen? Bellyful with midcentury cornbread,
oversalted collards on the gut. And another:

on a dare your brother has sent you into the alligator’s
sandy circle. Here you are, saddling its ribbed back,
your feet planted in the dust just behind his flailing foreclaws.
You won’t smile for the camera, nor the crowd of kids

standing round the cast-iron railing. I am going to say
it is August 1946, but who knows? Let’s assume your mother
whipped you off that rough beast and whupped you
on the boardwalk. But who took the picture?

There is humor in your knees, and your knees know it.
When you hopped across the gator’s fence, they twinged
and chucked under-breath. All afternoon they have tried
to get you laughing: What are we doing here

in Steinbeck country, on this tepid coast? Is it not time
to learn a trade? Raise a brood in Arkansas, round Eureka
Springs, frozen Lake Lucerne? But you’re heavy, too heavy
to lift. Sack-skin filled up with damp, quartz-glint sand.


James Miller is a native of Houston, Texas.  His poems have appeared in Cold Mountain ReviewThe Maine ReviewLullwater ReviewLunch Ticket, Gravel, Main Street RagVerdadJukedThe Shore, Menacing HedgeCalifragileMeat for Tea,  PlainsongsThe Atlanta ReviewSheila-Na-GigRogue Agent, and elsewhere.

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