Catching a Gecko: On Possession

by Gemma Feltovich


I have never held a gecko, which seems to me some kind of loss.

They are endemic to my grandmother’s backyard in southern California.
Living in the cracks between potted plants, lazing around in the sun,
faces tilted to the sky like chrysanthemum buds.

My uncle used to lie like that in the garden, hands folded
over his belly, holding himself like he was waiting
to dissolve into the ground, to trickle off like melting ice.
I would watch his chest rise and fall with the breeze.

The last time I visited was after he died.
I wanted to catch a gecko, to hold it in my hands
and know it was real, feel the heart beneath its skin.

I wanted to believe that such a small thing could contain
            some answer to life.

I remembered the fine fur of my pet rat’s belly, the rapid
drum of her heart in the crook of my elbow.
I remembered the young yellow-bellied warbler
who landed in the palm of my hand one morning
in the garden, his delicate head twitching
to take in the wind, the wide sky.

I sat there, still as anything. I was thinking
how easy it would be to snap his neck,
how fragile the little sinews were that held
            his soul intact.

The bird flew away, the rat died. My grasp
was gentle, kind. Sometimes I do not feel kind.
A gecko, a wriggling, twisting, irritable thing,
seems a suitable creature to hold in your fist:
            something to show to grief in triumph.

I spotted a lone gecko lying on the hot terracotta tiles,
nearly still enough to disappear. When it retreated
behind a plastic trash can, I lifted the can to see it better,
but the gecko darted towards me and I startled
and dropped the lid. The harsh edge of it


the gecko’s tail
from its body.

            It wriggled away
            into the brown grass

and I stood there watching the detached tail writhing around
on the tiles, filled with some kind of miserable impulse to move,
to rejoin the rest of it. Unaware that it was no longer part of a whole.

I picked it up. The muscles of the tail twisted
between my fingers, sweeping back and forth
like a windshield wiper. I could see the bone inside it,
            delicate as the spine of a tuna fish.

The gecko was gone,

and what remained was this vicious wound,
an abstract painting trying and failing to be a gecko.

I could not manage to possess the gecko, but it still
lost something. It escaped with less of itself than before.
I held a piece of it in my fingers and felt something
close to shame and closer to triumph. Close to sorrow
            and closer to greed.

The sky was a flat sort of blue.
            The ugly reclining chair on the patio
            where my uncle liked to nap
            was empty.

I went inside and washed my hands.


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