* I traveled to Louisiana because it’s got saltwater and French roots and I was drying up and my skin was cracking in the landlocked state of Arkansas.
PART I – The Alligator Kiss
I’m about to kiss a wild alligator in the swamps of Louisiana. I’m standing on the bow of an airboat. Spanish moss is dripping down from everything and sucking on air like a baby to a breast. Earth is boggy, the water- milky, the smell- foul, and everything around me snaps bones. Snakes, turtles, frogs and rats the size of racoons slink by in streaks. I see a wild pig up in a tree and I don’t know how the devil he got there.
A man named Bubba Fishhook just stuck his hands in water as dark as a tiger’s eye. In one fell swoop, he caught the gator I’m gonna kiss. Caught it just for me. When Bubba Fishhook smiles, you can’t see his teeth, cause there aren’t any and he has skin the color of a conquistador. His ship wrecked and he washed up in this stink mud next to the mud bugs and Jesus bugs and toad bugs. Bubba Fishhook is on something, smoked or injected, I can’t tell which. He’s empty like a desert and hot with holy jolts. He reeks with the fragrance of oblivion. Truth be told, a part of me is attracted to him. God knows why. Perhaps ‘cause he’s holding this wild, thick-skinned, three eyelid thing in his bare hands and he’s not even batting an eye. Bravery goes a long way with my desire. Mostly because I’m a chicken, clucking my way through life.
I want to kiss the gator, but I don’t want to kiss the gator. I mean, what if the gator sinks off into the brown abyss with my lips. Since Bubba Fishhook doesn’t have any teeth, maybe I can have his lips. Bubba says, “Comm’on girl we ain’t got all day, I caught him, now you kiss him.”
For a long time I make kissy faces at the gator- watching his eyes, watch my eyes, watching his eyes. I say a private prayer. It goes like this, “Dear God, even if this gator takes my two lips, please don’t let him take that feel-good-feeling of kissing away from me.” Then I smooch the gator and it’s all scales and snout and 80 jagged teeth. I release and step back and shriek like a dying cat.
A sunfish falls flat from my clouds and I look at the gator and I have this feeling of halfway belonging here and nowhere and anywhere. This feelin’ is the curse that carries me to places like this. Swamplands. Headlands. Homelands. Vacationlands. Meadowlands. Highlands. Sunlands. No Man’s lands. Why-the-hell-am-I-here-land, because-I-have-nothing-better-to-do-land?
I suppose I’m here learning how to let my heart race for the things that I cannot see. That I cannot control. That I don’t know and perhaps have never known. If I have yet to know these things, will I know them when they come? Will I recognize them when they sit across from me like statues made of flowers, with soft armor? I don’t know if I will, because nothing ever looks the way it is. Even me. What do you see when you see me? Who am I really?
If anybody asks, tell them that at the age of 38 I changed my name to Honeybird and grew a cowboy mouth. Tell them all I ever wanted to be was a bug that walked on water. Tell them I have long shadows. Tell them that there’s a forest inside of me that knows no light, but then there’s a wildflower meadow inside of me too that knows nothing but the light, and if they need me I’ll be somersaulting through the meadow. Tell them I got separated from my sailboat and my bones started to dry out and crack in the absence of saltwater, so I went to The Big Easy just to kiss an alligator and that the kiss filled me with all the wild things and left me hungry for more.
I leave Bubba and the alligator and go straight to the local donut shop. Every donut shop in Louisiana is a casino. You can eat a donut and wash it down with a beer, while shoving money in machines designed to win, but you don’t really care about winning, you’re there for the flashing lights and the ching-ching-cha-ching sounds and the empty promise of a penny.
In small towns, this is where the real people hang out. Everybody in the donut shop has sky eyes. And their eyes give me wings and I’m flying with all the Pelicans straight into Sugartown. I meet a man there named Jr. He knows that I’m part pistol and part space-cadet, still he lets me point my barrel at him. I say, “Jr. do you eat all the swamp critters around here?” And Jr. says, “I eat anything that don’t eat me first.”
I drive onward, deeper into the south. Things drip with slime. Boats and refrigerators and microwaves are dying on every blade of grass. Women wearing next to pink nothings stare out of broken trailer doors.
A man drives a Jesus car past me. I can’t tell which way he’s going. It’s the front half of two ford rangers welded together in the middle. So he’s driving forwards even when he’s driving backwards. That right there says a lot about Jesus.
I follow the highway pastor, because part of me still needs saving, perhaps all of me. Expectations got the best of my heart, pushed all the right things out and invited all the wrong things in.