Journal of Writing & Environment

“The Crocodiles He Keeps”


Dad keeps crocodiles in our basement.

He’s a collector of big reptiles: pythons with bite,

anacondas from Paraguay, the fittest Gilas,

even a Komodo once. He loves them all,

but crocs are his choice killers. Pleased even

by their bellows—mostly snorts and low gurgles by day,

grunts with a snorkel timbre by night—

he plays long B flats on his double bassoon

to get them sounding when Ma is away.

Vexed by bacteria and effluvia of croc chaw,

she tells Dad she’s tired of their tails whipping her shins

every time she missteps on her way to wash laundry.

When her knitting circle visits,

she invents reasons to sit on the back deck

and blames the braying inside on the radiator

or the plumbing. “Sounds like fog horns,”

Mrs. O’Leary offers. Ma complains,

but explains she “won’t defile” her husband’s dream.

I’m twelve and I’ve lived the life span

of four chameleons: I know how to toss a herring

into a caiman’s waiting mouth, how to squeeze

the soil from a worm so it won’t catch in a hatchling’s

insides when she feeds for the first time, how to scrape

the muck from a basement creeping

with snapping turtles without getting bitten.

And I know all about love.

I know about its tooth marks and cages,

its weird integrities.