The Alligator in the Sewer

I’d rather be in Florida
among the cypress knees and egrets,
but all things considered, I’m doing
pretty close to all right.
I’ve had some babies down here,
you know, and sent them on their way
through the pipes and into people’s toilets.
It was fun to imagine their reaction—
my children and these people
regarding each other in the half-light
from the medicine cabinet or
the streetlamp outside. I know
bathrooms and how they work
because that’s where I was kept
before I became too big to be cute,
but not too big to flush. I lived
in some lady’s tub. It was decent—
she fed me chicken livers and some
kind of salad with marshmallows in it.
But after a while, as my claws scrabbled
on the porcelain and nothing ever changed
except that I got bigger, after a while
with no others of my kind and nothing
to do but eat, I began to plot my escape.
If that lady hadn’t flushed me, I was going
to flush myself. It’s a pretty good life,
no matter how I got here. I think I’ll stay.

Alligators in New York Sewers


The Man on the Tube

Get off at the next stop. That’s what I told her
when I saw a flash that she’d be the next one
with scissors in the back of her head. Poor girl
followed me as if she had no choice. Had to be
only 18, 19—pretty as anything, too. It was
hard to remember my role in all of this:
not a villain, but not really a hero, either,
not a pair of arms to faint into, or a
happily-ever-after writing itself in a pub
after it was all over. I was meant
to be just a face on the train, a mystery,
someone she’ll think about and thank,
silently, years from now, when she’s
working in her art studio, maybe, or
tucking in beautiful children not made
with me. So I disappeared like the train,
like the men with their dead prize,
like the scissors—all of us gone to
become a story, so she could live hers.

The Corpse on the Tube

Do you see what I’m doing here? 🙂 Do you have a favorite urban legend with a character I could embody next? If so, please share it in the comments — shorthand title, keywords, or general gist. Thanks!


One of the Elderly Women

To tell you the truth, it was Dolores,
not me, who wanted to bury that cat.
I just wanted to have a nice lunch and
rest my feet after all that shopping
at Dillard’s—you know, for bags
to put the cat in. That thief

did us a favor, before
she banged her head—
and now the poor soul
is sure to wake up with
a dead cat, nothing

else to show for it. I almost feel
like I should have given her my pearls,
just the costume ones, but it would have
been something. Something other than
a dead cat and a lunch uneaten, spoiled.

I saw it when it came out
as the thief was being lifted
onto the gurney; it was
chicken salad with grapes,

just the thing for lunch on a Tuesday
by yourself, alone in your booth
except for the shopping bags
beside you, still full of promise.

The Dead Cat in the Package


The Vanishing Lady’s Daughter

But when I returned,
she had vanished, my mother,
and the hotel doctor was
only looking me up and down,
not answering, and the manager,
the hotel manager, showed me
the register, my mother’s name
nowhere to be found. And oh,
then the room! Room 342
was all turned round, no
velvet curtain, no wallpaper
with roses, though I knew—
I know!—they were there before.
And where was my mother,
with her fever and her sores,
and I supposed to help her but
delayed, the horseman driving
in circles, heaven knows why?
We should never have come there,
to Paris. We’d have been safer
going straight home, but Mother
had such a notion to see
the great Exposition for a change
after India, its misery and heat.
Do you suppose she’s seeing it now?
Perhaps she shall find me here
in England (but not at home).
Perhaps she shall carry
in her valise—also missing—
a set of fancy teacups or
a souvenir book of photographs.
That is why I stay here,
in this room, by this window.
I tear my shirtwaist, my hair.
I look out over the grounds,
beautiful as Versailles.
I stay. I tear. I look. I wait.

Read the original legend here.


The Elder Black-Eyed Kid

All we wanted was a ride home,
me and my brother, or all we wanted
was to see Mortal Kombat in the dark,
where we see better, you know.
All we wanted was your hand
on the car door in Abilene
or Portland, where

you promised you’d help us out.
C’mon, Mister. Let us in. We can’t
get in your car until you do, you know.

We weren’t going to hurt you.
We only wanted to see the movie
or a ride home, my brother and me,
but you had to go and spread those lies,

you had to tell about our black eyes
and white teeth, didn’t you, Mister,
on the streets of Abilene or Portland,
Mister. We will meet you again

wherever you are now, Mister.
Anywhere you are.

Read the original legend here.