Susanna Lang’s newest collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was published in 2017 by Terrapin Books. Her chapbook, Self-Portraits, is forthcoming from Blue Lyra Press in August 2020. Other collections include Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (Backwaters Press, 2008), as well as Words in Stone, a translation of Yves Bonnefoy’s poetry (University of Massachusetts Press, 1976). A two-time Hambidge Fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published original poems and translations from the French, in such journals as Little Star, The Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, december, The Slowdown and American Life in Poetry. She lives and teaches in Chicago.
It was in the paper—the alligator that surfaced
in the lagoon of a Chicago park, half the city
crowded along the banks, shouting there,
by the boathouse, there! Of course
they hadn’t seen a thing.
He measured a full
five feet when they finally caught him, tied
a red bow on his head, called a press conference.
Now I learn that my father, 19 years old
and stationed in Mississippi during the war,
shipped a gator to his girlfriend back in Cleveland,
the house behind the house where he grew up.
Imagine her face.
But she never got that delivery,
he’d forgotten or she hadn’t told him
she was going away and the mailman
who knew everyone’s stories
brought the gator to his mother’s door instead.
She kept him in a washtub till she couldn’t,
gave him away or maybe tipped him into
a nearby lake. Must have been the same story
in Chicago, someone’s pet that grew too big.
I remember his Mississippi stories that didn’t
make us laugh, and I’d recall the gator
if he’d talked about it. Four years
since my father died and I think of him
mostly when I dust the pictures, that sly grin
no matter how many times he told a story.
I thought I’d heard them all. His voice
only the dimmest echo, a sound I catch
when I’m not listening for it, often in the voices
of strangers—He wanted six pieces of fish….
No kidding! And they deliver?—walking by.