We were told about the alligators in the marsh 
and then we saw one.
He looked at us.
We looked at him.
“Once in a great while,” Michael said,
“they’ll eat a deer that’s been hurt.
They can run surprisingly fast
when they want. Mostly they live on crabs. 
They’re lazy and it’s rare they’ll go after
anything human-sized that looks like it would fight
but you never know. . . .
They eat rotten meat,
Don’t have molars, can’t chew
so what he’d do is drag you down
underwater, drown you and stuff
what used to be you under a log somewhere
until you softened up.
Have fun swimming at your own risk.”

I went in three times.
The tiny fiddler crabs
scuttle sideways all over the beach
making dry sounds, a variant
of cockroach language. They all carry
over-sized left-handed catcher’s mitts
with which they trap invisible flies.
No one here’s ever been attacked
by a gator — yet.

Twice more we saw him
just lying in mud not far from us,
sleepy and full of power. I took a picture
which didn’t come out — all you saw was monotonous green
landscape, and then what looked
like a little gray stick
which I knew was the alligator
(having been afraid to get any closer).
“They can hold their breath a lot
longer than you can,” Michael said. I lost
some of my desire to swim,
to float weightless on my back like a primordial
blob of dreaming protoplasm.
When I was hot I took showers
and made lists
of all the things I’m most afraid of — not alligators
but breast cancer,
or living through a car accident mangled beyond repair
or being the last one left alive after the final bomb has dropped.
Or, more simply, never being either happy or great — 
and in the meantime, having wasted it.

Two friends went shark-fishing today,
they invited me, I didn’t go. Not that I’m afraid
of sharks.
I’m afraid to kill something and eat it.
Afraid to watch it thrash and struggle.
Afraid to admit that this is how
the whole dearly-bought-and-paid-for
thing works.
And that Time, that lazy old alligator,
is waiting out there in his marsh
where he can hold his breath FOR AS LONG AS HE WANTS.