I kept a lizard’s skeleton
in a six-inch cedar box
I carried around the house.
I added a blue jay feather
and a pink nub of quartz
and wrote inside the lid—
I won’t tell you what.
Tattered hide clung
to ribs and backbone.
Crouched in grass,
I watched one perched
on a camellia branch,
eyes half-closed, sleek head lifted
toward the sun. Its dewlap swelled,
orange and pink against green.
I stretched out a hand
but already that body
was brown leaf-fall, shadows.
Muted yowl of a housecat,
small prey panting in its mouth.
The cat drops the lizard,
bats at it as it tries—
gut punctured, a leg
torn free—to pull
itself across the rug, past
its severed, wriggling tail.
Its claws snag in pile—
I can’t remember
the last time I saw one.
I click a link that tells me
the bark-brown sub-species
is making its way from Florida
and eats the green anole’s eggs.
(A flood took my cedar box.
Now I can’t remember
what I wrote in its lid.)
I pull my car to the curb
to pluck a brown anole
from the windshield wiper
and set it in the grass.
Walking out to the porch
to get this morning’s mail,
I saw the pale green body
clinging to the screen door.
When I walked closer,
my spirit flexed, unhooked
itself and leapt
three feet with the lizard,
deep into sweet olive.
The Path to the TG&Y
opens on the waste woods’ edge, shallow foot-worn rut
the little boy steps onto from Stein Street, coins’ jingle
muffled in his pocket. Now he’s halfway there, almost
to the minnow-creek, where he lingers, knowing nothing
beyond trees and dappled shade, muted hum and growl
of traffic on MacGregor, where he rode with his mother
the day the radio announcer broke Doctor King
has been shot. Mom’s face snagged, taut:
what she felt, he couldn’t name, frightened him.
Alone in these woods, he feels safe, this boy on his way
to buy a new rubber snake or Matchbox dump truck,
dawdling to scry the creek, beer can tabs and bottle shards
gleaming without meaning.
• • •
If he could see years ahead, he’d be stunned
by how easily I write Doctor King has been shot,
how the words slip like minnows through my fingers
while the event stays fixed, stuck deep in time and earth.
He’s lucky, the boy, to live in the past, in Mobile,
not here, in 2020, hearing my dearest friend
from high school tell me about the Watertown cop
who bent her arm so hard and far up her back
to cuff her, cheek pressed against her trunk’s icy lid,
she was glad her mother’s fists had taught her mind
how to leave her body. He’s not reading a colleague’s essay
about the cops who surrounded his car one morning
in his own driveway, his hands posed on the steering wheel,
tie tied, suit fresh, just trying to go to work. He’s not lost
online, researching, for a poem, details about a black boy
a white man shot, as if the flavor of the candy when he died
would make his murder more real. More lyrical.
• • •
The boy looks up
from the trash in the creek, sees parking-lot glare
far ahead through the trees. I wish I could tell you
he’s wondering why he never crosses paths here
with any of the black boys he’s stood side by side with
at the TG&Y. Last week, there was one in a green-striped tee
in the action figure aisle, and that kid in the creased jeans
by the bin of rubber snakes—he knows him from school,
can’t think of his name, though years later he’ll try
to remember or imagine. I wish he wrote down
their names, the toys they loved. I wish he wondered
Where do they go? Did I make them disappear?
Imagine a World in Which Monumental Lions Are Replaced, Every One of Them, with Monumental Chickens
I was at a birthday party the other night
in a backyard with a stage, a wagon,
a cat asleep on a mattress in a trailer bed,
and three chickens roosting high up in a tree.
Between sips of champagne, we tilted back our heads
for a glimpse of those round, feathered darknesses—
OK, chickens, just chickens, but also
more like angels than the cat or us,
more like denizens of a sidereal coop,
and equally at ease twenty feet above the earth
as the Running Chicken of Lambda Centaurii
in its turbulent heaven.
I just ate a bowl of chicken stew
with turnips, carrots, rice, and collard greens.
I have no desire to eat a lion.
I could more easily befriend a chicken than a lion.
I do not want friends who are brave and strong
by dint of massive haunches and crushing jaws.
My friends don’t lounge in the sun, licking blood-stained paws,
while I watch, pretending my fear is admiration.
My friends are busy. They spend all day
looking for what they need in the dirt around them.
They squabble. Have dust-ups. Stare, startle.
Their nobility consists in their persistence,
like chickens’ ordinary omnipresence
as civic and domestic decoration—
this pair of Russian Orloffs, for instance,
giant frost-crusted pinecones on the library steps.
This modest flock of Transylvania Naked Necks
posed on the four corners of Trafalgar Square
ease the mind of imperial nostalgia
and offer no hope of empire’s return.
Here is Richard, Couer de Poulet.
Here is Christ, Chicken of Judah.
Here, in the desert, a man-headed chicken
crumbles away, never scratches toward Bethlehem.
And here is my mother, in her chickens
of green glass and of blue on my shelves,
and in her chicken and rooster of cast iron
in the rain right now in my garden.
Last night I dreamed I grabbed a student—
nice kid who never shuts up—by his belt loops
and the collar of his jean jacket and hurled him
down the stairs and woke in a sweat; today
I’m thinking it’s time to move on. I have called
the secretary and she hopes I’ll get well, and soon.
I have allowed myself, with my toast and coffee,
a shot of rye. The mind clears. A garbage truck
groans down the block and I brood on the days
I’ve missed its song, pent with twenty-six teens
in a cinderblock, fluorescent-lit classroom
adorned with scotch-taped quotes like I was born lost
and take no pleasure in being found. My neighbor
starts his yard work, pushing his push-mower
soothingly—hush, chuckle-chuckle, hush—
until his cranked-up leaf-blower kills this pastoral.
I really need to use those days piled up
like leaves or mail by the door, high time
I get far away. Farther: not Vegas, maybe Spain,
or I could blend in on a Holy Land tour. I’d need
candles, bug spray, cured flesh to chew. And cash
for the toll at the Martyrs’ Bridge, the ticket
to the Martyrs’ House, the tip for the docent—
no truth’s revealed at a discount, friend,
least of all when I need it most … I need a map
but I’m a child who couldn’t name the river
that never meant to drown him. And who’s left
to imagine the river but the river’s ghost?
for Carolyn Hembree
It must have rained last night:
my swamp mallow is blooming.
Pale yellow eye wide at sunrise,
it receives my image as I pass
on my way to pick parsley.
My swamp mallow’s flower
looks like an okra flower,
and okra, too, is a mallow,
but not my mallow.
It doesn’t mind
if you prefer the salvia’s red tongues
or calendula’s buttery suns.
Carpenter bees dip and suck
all day in blown oregano plumes,
in basil, wood sage, and guara.
Slow mallow, it takes days
to make a green pod
silvered with whiskers.
Our point of view
is a hardened pod’s brown husk,
muffled rattle of seeds inside.
one bee pays one visit
to this holy corolla.
asks my swamp mallow.
“You should leave the garden,”
it tells me. “Go to a museum.
Have lunch with a friend.
Hasn’t it been long enough?”
Brad Richard is the author of four collections of poetry (most recently Parasite Kingdom, winner of the 2018 Tenth Gate Prize) and four chapbooks (including In Place, selected for the 2021 Robin Becker Series from Seven Kitchens Press). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including Hypertext, The Cortland Review, Tahoma Literary Review, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Okey-Panky, and The Nervous Breakdown. After teaching creative writing to talented middle and high school students for many years, he got very tired and decided to stay home and write. He serves on the board of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and on the editorial board of The Word Works.