“Alligators” by Jackleen Holton

Jackleen Holton


A child the age of our child was taken by an alligator.
The boy’s father fought to free his son, but the reptile
took him under, drowned him. We sit on the couch,
our mouths agape. It’s been a long week
of staring at the TV this way. I’ve gone off Facebook
for a few days, because all my relatives are afraid
that someone’s coming to take away their guns.
But their guns are as safe as alligators

in a bog. And all I can think about is how my little girl
loves to stomp her feet in the water, and when music
plays, she has to dance. Today, she said the word yellow
and pointed to a toy boat in the pool. She doesn’t
know that if we lived in Syria, a crowded
boat might be our best hope.

Last night, I read her a book called Alligators All Around.
She doesn’t know it’s a book about terror,
or that, in Florida last week, a hundred dancers
were shot because it was easier for a troubled man
to get an assault rifle than it was for him to remember
how to dance. I’m calling for a ban on all alligators.
Because how can it be that even a lake
in Disney World is not safe for a child?

Once, I was a tourist in my worst nightmare.
At the Everglades Holiday Park, the guide told us
to keep our limbs inside the boat at all times,
he said the gators didn’t really want to hurt
us, but they wouldn’t hesitate if they perceived
a threat. This was before I had anything I loved
more than my own arms and legs.

I hate politics now. I hate the news.
I can’t bear to see another overturned boat,
another child dead on the shore.
And now I find myself dreading the day
I’ll have to tell my daughter about alligators,
because that’s what I can’t stop thinking about
tonight—can’t stop the tears for the mother
and father flying home, an empty seat between them.

And now, I’m remembering how the state of Florida
looks from the window of a plane—thin strip of land, ocean
on both sides, boats dragging the white trails
of their wakes across the water, and how, all the way home
from that trip, my mind kept going back to the swamp, that warning
to stay inside the tiny, inadequate boat. And all around
us, the rock islands of those prehistoric bodies,
their black eyes watchful, gleaming.

from Poets Respond


Jackleen Holton: “The news that two-year-old Lane Graves, wading in a man-made lake at a Walt Disney World resort near Orlando, was snatched by an alligator and drowned shook me to the core in a week that had already brought the terrible news of a terrorist attack at an LGBTQ nightclub, also in Orlando. Meanwhile, both sides of the gun debate raged. Maurice Sendak’s classic book Alligators All Around, of course, is not about terror, but is a very terrifying idea if you give such matters any thought, which, unfortunately, I do all too often, especially after watching the news or going on Facebook too late at night.” (website)

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