|Jake The Alligator Man, Marsh's Free Museum, WA|
I've never seen a gator in the wild, and certainly nowhere around where I grew up. And I'm not entirely sure where the idea of Gator Men entered my subconscious. I was reading through a collection of old journals about the early wars between French trappers, British military, and Native American Tribes in the Ohio Valley and there was a short reference to them in an account by the journaler about a conversation with a flatboat operator.
Of course, it' significant to mention that I went looking for that reference to Gator Men.
I was sitting one day in the Part-Time Teacher's Dungeon in the Rhet and Comp Division at the University of Louisville. Office hours are mandatory and occasionally useful when you have a backup of student essays to read... and of course, we're supposed to be accessible to students in spite of the fact that 1) they will rarely stop by and 2) will more than likely shoot off a series of 10 separate emails with 20 different questions at 3 in the morning and then claim you never answered them when you don't respond by 7 when they pass out. In the absence of actual work or actual students, I read, I scribble, I day dream. On this particular day, after once again having to argue with cogs in la machina about whether or not I was really a real person and employee on the campus of That Other Kentucky University, I closed my eyes.
I allowed myself to drift -- not to sleep, but to relax. My colleagues, most of whom were doctoral students who eyed me with certain suspicion because I was not, ignored me (as was their custom) and when on complaining alternately about their students and their professors. And as I was drifting, the phrase echoed from the itchy back of my brain, where all my better notions are born and where all my odd tendencies take root...
Gator Men live in the river....
I'm still looking for more evidence of them, the Gator Men. It's hard to tell because all accounts I've read thus far are historic and never first hand... always some British interloper writing about what he heard while on his way to murder Injuns.
I did get a poem out of it, though. I'll think of a title eventually.
and the snow is seventeen men deep in Carroll County, Illinois.
We do not mark time in that manner here.
Ohio Valley folk keep track, not by the high tide
or by the count of barges carrying coal westward
from gutted Appalachian hills.
Not anymore. Everyone exists elsewhere –
dreaming of a permanent summer sun,
imagining the right circumstances
under which we will leave this place,
our world view defined by a modern indifference
to locks and docks and the swelling of the tide.
In the absence of all-knowing and immortal river men,
we search the horizon for some fresh landscape, unspoiled by memory
where the Gator Men do not hunker down
in dank and murky dreams
waiting for us to slip beneath and sleep
so they can take us for a sweet death roll
and show us
where all our childhood treasures are buried
never to be rediscovered.
By the way: if you think there's nothing living in the Ohio but 3-eyed muskies and catfish with an extra set of teeth (and there are..) check out this article about an octopus that was fished out of the Dirty, Sacred, River. Sweet Dreams.