Little River Towns
Sun-stunned on the mirror
Of sky-blue winter flood,
Days down from Okefenokee,
I find their bluff merely
A sandbar, their cabin
Rising from it on stilts.
Plastic sacks sit on the stair.
Unscreened windows gape
Under propped-out shutters.
Master and Mistress snooze
On canvas folding cots,
Dreaming summer shallows.
I spin and dip my blade,
Revolving on the mirror
Of empty sky dissolving
Whatever else of them
I might remember but can't
Afford to because they
Are who I was almost
But will not become:
Mislaid local friends,
Leisured after twenty years,
Their tanned wives still
In white skirts and bracelets.
I pass them on the green,
Of the little river towns,
Unable to call a name
Or ask who they became.
Mausolean shadows drown
Palatka's Azalea Ravine.
Grief obliterates grief.
Or here at Echo Lake where I study late
Upstairs by a window from which extend
Frescoed walls, incandescently green
Over the sill, marking horizons
Where derelict tributaries pour
From April hills August rivers
Whose names will echo
Songs of summer evenings,
Fire-lit, on the river dunes.
Brickyard Landing in the Rain
Hungover at the locals' camp,
I take all morning making coffee
Waiting for the tide to turn downstream
And take me, everything the same
As last year: water-blackened live oak
Trunks, water-weighted tarp over
A plank table, truck tires burned down
To ashen paste and rusted coils.
Brown pine needles on coals
Smoke, char, wrinkle, and flare
Into a wider, emptier afternoon.
I close my eyes considering
Walking the soft white sand road
To where you may live even now,
Going about your quiet life,
Standing on the screened porch
Crowded by broad-leaved plants,
Some dusty, some not, trying,
Momentarily, your scissor's edge
On a patch of green material
While more rain falls in the grass
Between the shell walk and your car.
I stir dusty smoke. A soaked limb
Thuds on a root-dome in the bottom.
Big drops pock the full salt river,
Tar-black, riffling like a breath...
By the limerock landing the drops
Slip downstream seeming
Always to have been moving that way.
Bulowville, East Florida, 1834
The boat, six hands and three white men,
Put off with a fair wind and a pure sky
In search of new and valuable birds.
We meandered down a creek eleven miles,
The water torpid but absolutely clear,
The high trees vivid with fall grapes,
And sailed into Halifax, an arm of the sea,
Where our way was obstructed by fish.
The tide leaving us, we turned back
With a northeast gale in our teeth,
Our only resort to go waist deep hauling
Over oyster banks to shore by dark.
The devil himself could not burn a palm.
What a night. Our provisions drowned,
We rolled ourselves in our cloaks beneath
Von Bulow's light and beautiful craft.
Providence and care have made us well,
Except my left leg stiff from the tides,
Dunes, and thorny wastes that appear
Created to no purpose but being desert,
Some part of what will claim us all.