The Obligatory Alligator

Jesse Millner

Last night I dreamed I drove through an army base I’d never been to before. It was huge and filled with movie theatres, shopping malls, apartments, a main street with all the various army departments like War, Peace, Punditry, and Speedskating.

The army bases of sleep are indeed strange places. In some Western states, the abandoned installations have been turned into sanctuaries for bison. The long prairie grasses have grown back with their blue-green sheen that some Native American shamans believe is the entire color of the next world, the one that slips into the Black Hills sometimes, rubbing against mountains and creating that kind of beautiful friction that happens when the dead push against the living.

The shamans knew the next world visits our dreams as well, so it’s important to go hungry for days and wander through the closest forest we can find. Because these days finding nature is difficult, the medicine men have ok’d the use of city parks, which can appear haunted and holy at night, in the same way that wild woods always are.

The closest city park to my house is called Lakes Park because there are many lakes in the park. There’s also a miniature railroad you can ride at night during the holiday season and see lights strung from palm trees in the shapes of polar bears, penguins, and an occasional Santa Claus. There are alligators in the black water, and I think of them as spirit animals, creatures who live by instinct, appetite, and big teeth—a holy trinity of perfect desire in which the dream is requited by tangible, bloody flesh.

Because this is Florida, my dreams and poems must include the obligatory alligator, just as these ancient creatures must wander Sunshine State golf courses in search of the slowest player, the one wearing white shoes and flashy green-blue socks, who has his back turned and is thinking about the good sex he had the night before with his wrinkled wife who will miss him after his tragic death but only for a few weeks before she meets a guitar salesman at a bar in Tampa. She will get lost immediately in the salesman’s brown eyes, will love his spiel about the best guitars being made with wood from a tree found only in a part of the Orinoco River just before it plunges from Venezuela into Brazil.  She will realize he won’t name the tree until she has sex with him because this is his most seductive secret, the one he carries reverently in that part of his brain where the silences are deepest and if he listens carefully, he can hear the cries of howler monkeys luring him farther into the rainforest.

Jesse Millner’s most recent poetry book, “Memory’s Blue Sedan,” was released by Hysterical Books of Tallahassee, Florida, in April 2020. He has a story in Best Small Fictions 2020. Jesse lives in Estero, Florida with his dog, Lucy.