"Photographing Crocodiles," by Audrey R. Smith
Belly flat, rough planks eroding my elbows.
He meets my single eye with both of his, opalescent earth tones
glittering like cuts of topaz, golden glass waiting, calculating.
I offer nothing, but still he watches me,
drifting closer, those eyes absorbing everything.
Turning slightly, the great tail sweeping back and forth in the cool dark.
A simple series of lumps he appears from the seawall;
passerby may not notice him, a floating stone.
My eye brings the moving mass into sharp relief,
the gnarled head and peaked scutes unveiled by autofocus.
The dying orb behind me flings its final rays across the landscape.
Trees across the water ignite with gilded flame, and he glides
silently through the burn of color, coming to rest in the cool reflection of green.
A hundred clicks, then a hundred more. I had captured his companion's smile
not five minutes ago, head propped up such as it was
by the arcing prop roots of red mangrove, a barricade of ivory cones
enveloping scaly lips. That one content in apparent tranquility,
I resume my prone stance on the floating wood, my eye focused once again on the first,
technology allowing me to capture him dozens of times in a few seconds.
He slips silently across the top of the dark brine, nosing the rim where
the paddling boats rest upside down until the next sojourner appears.
Now so close that my eye shows refinements of his armored countenance,
click, click, click goes my shutter, trapping every nuance of his movements,
living them again a mere breath later in instant replay.
Click. The visage in profile as he glides, all significant senses united
with the water's surface, a hydrological harmony.
Click. A slight turn, his eye meeting mine once again. A wedge of ibis wing overhead,
their inverted impressions covering him like confetti.
Click. Another turn, now forming an isosceles triangle. His flawlessness
would shame any mathematician. Augmented keystone.
The burning orb is almost extinguished now, shadows long. What little light remains
saturates the sky, reflects off the water, creating a dreamy façade.
A final click, forever rooted in his environment, in a moment of aesthetic perfection,
now bits of data on a memory card. A manner of eternal life.
Now tired of the antics of humans, he drifts away, slowly backward,
whether by the current or his own locomotion I cannot say.
He remains motionless for a few moments, then wheels underwater,
a fluid movement, ghosting his own skin as he seeks refuge in the dark water,
an anemic apparition. He resurfaces back under the red mangroves, still watching,
as if he had never left. The whole encounter could have been a dream,
and I could awaken in my own bed, but for the images I bring home with me.
He watches, and silently I thank him for being what he is, and allowing me to behold it.
We will meet again.