Prose Poem: Hope and Alligator Lessons

Hope and Alligator Lessons

When the man tells the story about withstanding the hurricane, he speaks of alligators living in his garage. The woman speaks in muted gestures and points to the walls where the water line etches the ceiling. "We were lucky it only came up this far," she says pointing to her knees, ignoring the evidence above.

Possessions dot the lawn down to the water in garbage-bag bundles like a checkers game too askew to finish, or a gum-ball machine gone haywire, spewing little cannons that pin the ground. Unfolded in the mud lie magazine pages, the stories of A Baby's First Year, and National Geographic discoveries can again be found. Stories in ink survive the storm, nestled in the safe and solid ground.

Finally, after months of pacing and painting their story in the air with their washed-up words, a small corner of the porch is cleared. The buckled floorboards are ready to begin again. And the man cannot stop telling his story of the alligators eating birthday cake from the refrigerator in his garage.


Artist Statement

I used Matthew Dickman's poem "Apology and Winter Things" for a general model while writing this poem: I created a similar balanced title structure and made sure to repeat my opening thought again at the end, with a slight alteration.

This poem is inspired by my trip to Mississippi a couple summers ago when I helped with relief work after Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to portray how stories and the act of telling their stories is really what helped these families recover, or what helps anyone recover from a disaster or tragedy. Our group did a lot of physical labor to get their town back on their feet (roofing houses, cleaning up debris, etc.), but what we provided that they needed the most, was just our ears to hear their stories.

I was struck by the items we found in the mud that had survived the storm: magazine articles were completely in tact! I even found myself reading some right there in the middle of the swamp as if they were sacred pieces of evidence carrying heavy secrets. It was eerie thinking the people who owned these things may not have survived, but their stuff did -- completely unharmed. I used the survival of these print items and stories as a metaphor in my poem, showing how the stories the survivors have to share are also like artifacts and documents that survived the storm -- and are central to the recovery process.

I structured the poem in 3 separate stanzas to illustrate the stages of recovery. At first there is disbelief and denial (the woman we helped was insistent that her house only had a few feet of water), then they begin telling you their stories (I really did hear about alligators raiding a house), and finally there is a sense of hope.


  1. Did this come out of a class assignment at Hamline?
    You deftly weave a kaleidoscopic web of images and feelings that create a buoyant foundation for weighty reflection.

  2. nice response dad. haha. We didn't really have assignments at Hamline, more like a string of running ideas. As I mention in my artist statement, this is modeled off of one poem we read in class (just in structure). That week we had also been discussing documents and the different kinds of documents we find... made me think about Katrina and all the physical documents we found in the debris (photos, etc) and also the water markings on the walls documenting where the water had been.... so not an assignment, but triggered by class discussion and readings.


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