Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ALLIGATOR, by BEATRICE WITTE RAVENEL



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE ALLIGATOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He roars in the swamp
Last Line: In the spring.
Subject(s): Alligators


He roars in the swamp.
For two hundred years he has clamored in Spring;
He is fourteen feet long, and his track scars the earth in
the night-time,
His voice scars the air.

Oak-boughs have furred their forks, are in velvet;
Jessamine crackle their fire-new sparks;
The grass is full of a nameless wildness of color, of flow-
ers in solution.
The glass-blower birds twist their brittle imaginings
over the multiplied colors of water.

But the counterpoint of the Spring --
Exacerbate, resonant,
Raw like beginnings of worlds,
Cry of the mud made flesh, made particular, personal,
Midnight assailing the morning, myopic sound, blinded
by sun, --
Roars from the swamp.
A thing in itself,
Not only alive, but the very existence of death would be
news to it.
Will --
Will without inflection,
Making us shudder, ashamed of our own triviality --
The bull alligator roars in the swamp.

This is queer country.
One does not walk nor climb for a view;
It comes right up to the porch, like a hound to be
patted.
Under our hog-back
The swamp, inchoate creature, fumbles its passage,
still nearer;
Puffing a vapor of flowers before it.
This week there are ponds in the wood, vertiginous skies
underfoot,
Pondering heaven.
Next week, in the pashing mud of the footpath
Fish may be gasping, baffled in semi-solids.
The negroes will eat them.

This is queer country.
Thick-blooded compulsive sound,
Like scum in the branch, chokes, mantles the morning.

Sangarrah! . . . Sangarrah!. . . Sangarrah! . . .

Two hundred years back --
And the medicine-man of the Yemassee
Sat in the thick of the swamp, on the ridge where the
cypresses flung
Their elfin stockade.
Wrinkled his chest as the cast-off skin of the blacksnake,
The hide of his cheeks hung square and ridged as the
hide
Of the grown alligator.
A young alligator squirmed on his naked knees
While he muttered its lesson.

That was strong medicine. Over the old man's eyes
Drooped the holy beloved crest of the swan-plumes;
Otter-skin straps cut under his arms
From the breastplate of conch-shells.
Fawn-trotters fell from his boot-tops; the white beloved
mantle
Lined with raw scarlet, hung on the gum-tree,
along with the ocelot quiver
And locust-wood bow.
He had fasted, drinking the dark button snake-root.
He shuddered,
Calling the secret name, the name of the Manneyto,
Y-O-He,
Never known by the people.
On the infant saurian, long-lived, ruled into patterns,
his hands
Moved, taking the shape of a sharp-curved arrow;
He spoke, teaching its lesson, calling its name;
"Nanneb-Chunchaba,
Fish-like-a-Mountain,
Remember!

"By the day-sun and the night-sun,
By the new beloved fire of the corn-feast;
By the Arrow of Lightning, that came from the storm,
From the Spirit of Fire to the ancient chief of the
Yemassee --
Totem of Yemassee!
Let our voice be remembered.

"We go from the hunting-grounds of our fathers,
The lands that we took, fighting north through the
man-eating Westoes,
Fall from our hands.
In the hills of our dead, in the powdering flesh that
conceived us,
Shall the white man plant corn.

"The trails where we fought with the fierce Tuscarora
Will call us in vain;
No pictures of skillful canoemen will green Isundiga
paint clear in his waters.
We shall be cut from the land as the medicine-man cuts
the totem
From the arm of the outcast.

"From the sky they cannot cut our totem!"

"My name too shall vanish.
When the drums and the music for three days are silent
And men praise me under the peach-trees,
My over-wise spirit
Shall root itself here, as the oak-tree takes hold.
Who will wait for me? Which of the spirits
That have made of my body a lodge, that have twisted
my sinews
As women twist withes for their baskets, will claim
habitation,
That have spoken their wisdom
Out of my mouth?
I shall hide from them all, as the war-chiefs
Cover their lives with the tree-tops,
Leaving them safe when they go on the war-path.
I shall sleep in this place.

"In the new days,
The days when our voice shall be silent,
Speak for the Yemassee!
Nanneb-Chunchaba, you, little Fish-like-a-Mountain,
Shout through the forest the terrible war-cry of
Yemassee!

"Sangarrah! . . . Sangarrah-me! . . . Sangarrah-me!
Shout! I shall hear you!
Sangarrah! . . ."

For two hundred years --
Will, without inflexion --
The bull alligator
Roars from the swamp
In the Spring.




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