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Poetry by Wendy Taylor Carlisle


The Alligator Handler


The alligator handler is grappling, counting the scales on the galloper under him, when he first hears it. He clamps down harder on the colossal mouth, trying to decide—is it coming from under him or is it air escaping from an eighteen-wheeler’s tires, an FM breeze off the freeway, brakes? All around the air syncopates, rhythmic, harmonic, with just a touch of do-wo, urging, “Loosen up. Enjoy the ride.” He catches the beat; bobs his head to saucy, saurian rock n’ roll.

When this gator still had an egg tooth, every Gold Coast kid kept a hatchling in a fish tank on the painted bedroom dresser. Hunkered next to the tube radio, tiny scales decorated with, Souvenir of Florida! Florida Gator!, they outgrew their aquariums hormoned by the Big Bopper, chords covering them like paint. Set free later, the half-grown ‘gators were veneered with R & B. On any post-fifties day, in burrows and holes across the swamp the Alligator Show modulates—belly crawlers and high walkers harmonizing in a wild, wailed melody. Sibilance circles every new-hatched pod. White cranes and pelicans tick over into their own sha na na. Every crusty body croons.

No matter if he ever figures it out. No matter how the big bull, ‘Gold Coast Champ,’ flaking off his scales, Elvis in his heart, tempts him. The handler, listening hard for Slim Harpo, is hanging up his leather gloves. Now he longs only to relax in silt up to his tattoos, to rumble the be bop, hiss the shoop shoop, tune his swampy soul until a choir reaches up & pulls him in.



Driving Toward Utopia, Texas
After Robert Bly


Sunset on State Line; never-dark I 30; East Texas.
Outside Atlanta on SR 59, the sun abandons the asphalt.
Bar-b-que shacks exhale from the roadside
Wooden girls show their painted panties to the drive-bys
In towns with less than 500 people I am a motorway potentate
To each turkey sheltering in her triangular tin house.

This Ford F-150 is a cruise ship, a powerboat
Floats like a fat Sheriff in ditch water politics,
On the road from Marshall to Carthage.
Emptiness rides up beside me,
from the dark soybean rows,
Outvoted by the cicadas’ chirr.

Near Lufkin, suddenly Sam Rayburn Reservoir,
The water filibustering, moon struck.
In one-story farmhouses you’re close to the dirt;
Yard lights glow for the moths’ support.
When I get to Black Bayou, a caucus of stars.
Cows low by the water, rubbing their polls on the fence.


for n.s.


She plants her bulbs
by the moon
as if she had faith
in spring.
Sorts pictures:
him in a fedora, playing
banjo, pastes them
onto black paper,
soft as a felt hat.

The neighbors bring
casseroles; she eats
politely, continues
losing her waistline,
forgetting how
he Travis picked,
and how
he used a black
Kyser capo.

In dreams, her hands
open, close, tighten
on the bicycle brake.
She thumbs the Torah,
the Tao, as if
he were following along

his hand resting
on her waist.

But she’s done

how quick it was,

his bike on the asphalt,

then nothing

but the uninterrupted moon,
idling across town.



Marrying the Weight Lifter’s Daughter


Day after day you court her. You open doors she could easily break down. You carry her suitcases although they are full of rocks. You bring her bouquets of sinkers and hand weights. She seems not to notice; she embodies her father’s broad silence. You toil along hoisting boxes of andirons and high school annuals. You grunt and heave. Her love is the tonnage you struggle to elevate.

After months of heavy lifting, she consents. At your wedding, the ushers wear formal trunks; each bridesmaid can bench press 200 pounds. In the honeymoon suite, your bride demonstrates what she has desired all along. She enters the room wearing only her tattoos and gazes tenderly down at you lying on the bed very still. She bends over, grabs your ankles with one hand and places the other gently around your neck, then clean jerks you over her head.



About the Author

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in East Texas, land of Budweiser and boviculture. Her work is just out in Montserrat Review #5, Conspire, Friction, Pidgin and 2River View. Poems are forthcoming in Diner and Cider Press Review. Her book, Reading Berryman to the Dog (Jacaranda Press, 2000) is available at Amazon.com as well as through Spring Church Books, 800-496-1262.