The sawgrass parted grudgingly,
bowing and sighing in the airboat’s hot wind,
like an ageing racer’s heart braking on empty.
Flat-snouted bonefish boats
skimming west in the sunset
half waves at the airboat’s wake.
The woman flexed heading the bow around,
losing two pounds in ten minutes in the late sun,
steam rising from her blue-black, lank hair.
Biceps tensed short arms muscled under fat
rendering her grace under tire
shaped back butt and candle — bookends
of over indulgent cooking.
Alligators near the shore quietly ignored
her approach until the moment day
fell overboard and drowned in the night.
Frogs took up the rant of backcountry preachers
buried as often as needed in a land
where water forgot to mind its manners.
Absent of love or any of its facsimiles,
her eyes adjusted fast and her slab hands
caught mosquito patrols phlat footed,
her bare arms flailing a dark so redolent
of dead fish she could taste its gumbo hunger.
Fish she’d stalked lay stunned or dead
in the broken-lid coolbox where she’d dumped
them during the afternoon — hard work in a haunting stalk,
poling the airboat through sawgrass hedges,
betting on the small pools of open water out of sight
from Cat Channel’s visible tides.
Flies buzzed off in the dark.
The fish they had blackened
poached in preternatural pails
of moonlight so thin it razored
hearts worse than Al Catalano
when he cut a mean figure there
in the parish before caching it
in peace, in pieces, in the coolbox.
Al waited, his hair white
among other whites, just passed-fors
each hoping to escape screened porch
to sag soft-thundering down and
hang soul-grab distance from rust pegs
that supported the coolbox door
broken off all those lost years back
when it mattered, when he used it.
Used it to hide hideous hide
and whatnot of rivals for her
tendrils, tenderness and tacit
acceptance of whoever smiled
her direction lamps into warm
heat, blew not out but encouraged
lymph light into boys’ shy places
forgotten since called up to preach.
On course to the cabin, she hesitated,
three hundred yards and four light-years
from Al, black-parched
in thin quartered light drawn back now
to conceal more than show why she
once caught his hard when it still beat
in minor-key measures each time
she entered his bar, sinister.
The bayou airboat bumped the pilings,
shaking mildew spores, beetles and breakfast crumbs
across the dank dark porch floor downhill
to meet her, landing with soft plops
heard mostly by midges. Black mud
from her boots mashed out arrival,
the only one Al had for years,
avoiding passed sentence for life.
Ripe fish raw thrown up the landing,
watery with waste from tired days
exhausted doing nothing hard,
she followed with line in right hand
and fish knife winking a greeting to
Catalano from the left one.
No words spoken, needs all long gone,
bound up tight: good taxidermy.
Al hung in his chair as he now
always would, tanned to near iron wood
by loosed elements of passion
in bayou protocols where boys
killed men to protect their rights, and girls
smooth like her retaliated:
keeping their lovers hooked, tame, tanned
where black waters ripple. Her home.
I am one of your presumably few readers who, like you, knew Al Catalano. Nice poem; rings true.
Thanks Henry. Inspired by your comment I emailed this poem to Alan Greer, perhaps the only other person I know who knew who knew Al Catalano.
It is one of your best. Were you in our backyard?
Sent from my iPad
Thanks, Sandra. Yes, actually. There I was, drifting in a sinking pirogue.