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.