The Powerplants of Jupiter

Andrew Hemmert

The animalia inherent to a cumulus sky

tracking seaward over a river lined

with morassed, red mangroves,

the lizard tenements of live oaks

older than St. Augustine shaking

pollen from their yellow-green vestments—

sometimes I have to imagine it back.

My brother says the pollen in Florida

is just as bad as ever. That’s one thing

I don’t miss, I told him. What I do miss

is everything else. Was remembering,

for example, sneaking out onto golf courses

after hours to fish the bass in duckweed ponds,

and counting the eyes of alligators

where they pierced yellow the surface

of the water. There’s a picture of us

as kids in Cocoa Beach, smiling

wearing alligator foot necklaces,

probably bought after an airboat ride

through retreating marshland, or after

visiting one of those interchangeable farms

to gawk at gators leaping for rotisserie chickens.

One thing I regret not doing in Michigan

was visiting the state’s only alligator sanctuary

in Critchlow. I watched online

as new arrivals were named by poll,

donations requested for care—

some of the animals missing limbs

or slashed across the face, eyeless

from buckshot and arrowshot, the kind of thing

my high school friends joked about doing

at night out on the chains of lakes. Myself

I never wanted a gun, except when I was a kid,

and thought war was a pastime. My parents tell me

as a toddler I pretended myself a builder.

I carried an L-shaped block, swung it

like a hammer. Then one day,

I turned it around and it became a pistol.

My dad has a gun somewhere in their house,

but I’ve never seen it. Which is my preference,

all good alligators never let themselves be seen

beyond the double glow of vision,

beyond the surrendered refuse of their bodies—

teeth on cords for kids to wear at Disney,

gator claw back scratchers, you get the idea.

The body as commodity, same impulse

that gave us freak shows, one of which

collapsed in Gibsonton, FL, where Lobster Boy

shot his daughter’s fiancé to death.

Later, his own family put a price on his head.

When I drove there looking for more of the story,

all I found was an overgrown yard,

a kid’s tricycle threaded with vines.

That town is circus murals

painted on the flanks of failing restaurants,

all-day happy hours, those who remain

propped up by the phosphate plant

on the other side of the salt-crowned Alafia River.

I used to cross that river every few weeks

on my way home from college—

home on an island that will disappear,

home I haven’t been to in years,

the Alafia darkly sliding by like an animal

hungry for the powerplants of Jupiter.

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