Alison Pelegrin: "Bestiary of the Bayou State"




Armadillos unlucky under wheels linger

     with their stench on Million Dollar Road.

Blind nearly, born in sets of four, they jump UP

     when alarmed instead of playing possum. My

cat kills one of those a night. At least I think

     it’s her that drops them—sleeping?

dead?—on a newspaper pillow at dawn.

     Good girl, mama kitty, wildebeast, rabbit

eater, cougar-like and almost tame.

     She suffers kindness after she’s rolled in

fresh kill. Chains of ants pour from the eyes of

     field mice, moles, and featherless birds.

Gators everywhere, and in everything—

     from blood sausage to cowboy boots.

Hunting them you gaff first, then shoot, or else

     they’ll sink. Chicken necks or tripe for bait. An

invite of mini-marshmallows draws them

     closer to the boat. Sometime too close—

just last summer one took a boy’s arm.

     He survived. Not so for “Big Joe.”

Killer bees, honey bees, swarm of bees in my hair,

     and me howling through the bayou like a

loup garou with a mouthful of baby shoes.

     Many arrowheads and blades to nick the garfish.

Mullet, trash fish, bottom feeders triple jumping

     on the Tickfaw River’s houseboat side.

Nobody but the down and outs even bother,

     the bridge-dwellers, hunger’s hounds, their bicycles

overloaded with nets and mildewed umbrellas.

     How come this sterile outline on the state flag,

Pelican? They’ve made you over, more mascot than

     mother love. No self-let blood to feed the

quints, no crash dives near the Causeway where martins

     swarm at dusk—I hit three with the car one trip.

Red and yellow friendly fellow—or is it red and yellow

     kill a fellow? Jack? Which snake has poisonous

stripes? This is how I know poetry

     can’t save me. Guaranteed I’ll handle the

toxic snake, as though for me they’d be charmed,

     as though from my acreage alone

undergrowth would be purged of insect dangers

     and the copperhead’s paper skin. Drive slow while

vultures lift off from their red velvet road kill.

     Nothing wasted, nothing left behind. Well, almost.

Woodpeckers, we spared the half-dead tree; you split it

     like a lightning strike. We hold our voices down, O

xylophone of unseen birds—ruddy ducks randomly

     off cue, battle hymn of hawks and crows.

You can hear carpenter bees drilling the porch swing.

     See their saw dust rain? Dizzying—a

zillion devil crickets dead at the creek bed—

     down payment for the few that wobble onward.



Alison Pelegrin is the author of Big Muddy River of Stars (University of Akron Press, 2007), which was selected by B.H. Fairchild for the Akron Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared widely, including Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Daily, Southern Review, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac.