Maureen Seaton is the author of seventeen poetry collections, both solo and collaborative—most recently, Fibonacci Batman: New and Selected Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2013) and Caprice: Collected, Uncollected, and New Collaborations, with Denise Duhamel (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). Seaton’s awards include the Iowa Prize, Lambda Literary Award, Audre Lorde Award, Society of Midland Authors Award, an NEA fellowship, and the Pushcart Prize. She is a Professor of English/Creative Writing at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. (Author photo by Linda Braasch)
7 Poems for Florida
Women always think they’re bulletproof.—Secret Serviceman, Frank Wilson, regarding his wife, who was concerned that he was spending too much time away from home and suggested she accompany him on his surveillance of Al Capone. (Collins, V119, April 26, 1947)
She walked down the beach at a good clip. Black sneakers, anklets, a man’s straw hat. He was barefoot in Bermuda shorts and a fedora. Small planes rhymed above the ocean. Terns with crewcuts policed the shore. She wavered in water and ordered a fine-trilled bone. He fluctuated in the undertow like a circling rope. A smear of sharks fifty feet from a smear of bathers: what buzzes in the sargassum and clinks in the heat—hustle, mob, midheaven, underworld, bocci, Eliot Ness. Among the dead, two were Leo, two Pisces, three Cancer, and a Libra on the cusp. They all died tanning.
7 Truths about the Palm Tree
Palm trees are fast on their feet, like roaches. They’re trickster relatives of the great live oak or reincarnated Confederate soldiers. They drop fronds on the sides of roads that resemble dead animals and small children; bend to throw coconuts at passersby, then straighten back up, their beady eyes following the unlucky like Mona Lisa’s. They have shallow roots, yet they’re dazzling in hurricanes, and the one outside my window is ignoring me so hard right now, I can almost make out its mythical, maniacal face, grinning.
Sonnet for Snapper Creek
Now I’m almost killed (again) on the Snapper Creek Expressway, my shadow left behind on blacktop like a map of this precarious sinking city. So I invent an odd task for my fellow poets: Ephemera, I propose, harmless but illegal, a tissue in felon wind, a blip beneath the radar. We enjamb the law in small ways, our felonious poems sailing from the sealed lips of sculptures, the gnarled arms of banyans, stuffed into bottles we toss into Snapper Creek (the creek, not the suicidal highway), begging fish, fowl, mankind: O, Miami, save us.
She leaned over and lost her lunch in auburn braids. She missed mermaid babies, their tiny legs scalpeled into Levis. And mangroves, the way they stood up for each other. Only a few of the world’s fittest fishes were left, scary fishes, can’t-eat-’ems. Women raced around for a splash of passionflower water. They were cosmetological. They rubbed together like crickets. They behaved sanctimoniously. She brought out the Caribbean gift set (value, $100, reduced to $70). She fell asleep, selling. Her throat opened like a gift certificate.
The Mystery of the Direction of Time
– Gulf of Mexico, 2005
On June 8, 2005, nearly two months earlier than the start of the 2004 season, Tropical Storm Arlene formed in the western Caribbean, crossing Cuba before making landfall in Florida on June 11. Five official storm names were retired that season—Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan, and Wilma—the worst recorded season in history. Arlene caused only moderate damage, although one swimmer was caught in a riptide and drowned in Miami Beach. (paraphrased from Wikipedia)
She will be a sudden slanted lighthouse.
She will snorkel in the gulf, a wizened mermaid.
She will tend small fires, hiding them in pits along the beach.
She will sing in a way both pthalo blue and new-moonish.
She will stretch in a great heron pose, a long drink of seawater.
She will subsist on pine needles that grow on the dunes of the Gulf of Mexico some call the Lake.
She will hang upside down in the mangrove swamp. Her hands and hair will brush the water. The moon will grow full behind her.
She will draw a star map and leave her body for a certain time.
She will prepare a sarcophagus under the porch and slip inside where the iguana owns the right of way.
She will turn off her cell phone and hide it in the iguana’s mouth.
She will notice that the Red Tide has cleared the beach of all but one who swims in the algae and waves to her as she peers from the doorway.
She will go outside and breathe the Red Tide. It will enter her nostrils like pepper spray.
She will hear firecrackers deep in the mangroves. They will burn the roof of her mouth.
She will look at the water some call the Lake of Mexico and absorb its poisons and serenity.
She will read that Pisces rules the feet and paint her toenails blue.
She will adorn her neck with egg cases and tiny whelks.
She will blister from walking too far. Her hair will burn, a great flame so you can see her coming in the distance.
She will look at the horizon without longing.
She will look at the horizon and age suddenly. Her eyes will burst with longing.
She will plant her desires in the sand until she is finished with solitude.
She will walk five miles north, then south, before she opens her lunch and throws it to the gulls.
She will look out at the Gulf where the heron also looks and say I love you. The heron will not move, but the love will enter her like karma.
She will make sea grape jelly in a Popeye the Sailor pail.
She will invoke Lemon Bay and Manasota Key—places whose names are like lovers on her tongue.
She will claim Florida as her home though her past is the seed of a Northern island—long and full of crowds who drop their r’s.
She will claim the Gulf as her mother, though she grew several leagues deep in the freezing North Atlantic.
She will stand among the mangroves and name their colors. Of the red, she will say their feet take them deep instead of far; of the black, she will say they wisely create forests of offsprings; of the white, she will say they bend over Lemon Bay like mothers.
She will hunch among the mangroves, a night heron.
She will write illegibly in tarpon and snook.
She will speak lemon shark and sand flea.
She will misunderstand the simplest of questions. For her name she will say Oystercatcher. For her address she will say here.
She will bicycle north on the mainland and on to Venice where they grow their own fossils: camel vertebrae and the enormous teeth of the carcharodon megalodon, the sixty foot great white shark.
She will toss salads of gardenias and orange blossoms that taste of hurricanes.
She will run with naked legs to the rainbarrels and count her mosquito bites. They will number one hundred and fifty-seven.
She will sit on the mound of earth called the Calusa midden and sketch the ghosts as they float above the sand.
She will swim at Middle Beach at her own risk.
She will mourn the lizard who follows her into the hermitage and dies in the closet with the broom and the vacuum cleaner.
She will navigate insects. She will capture the largest and place them outside, where they will whisper and map their return.
She will find a ghost sleeping in her bed in cloud pajamas.
She will find a ghost on the screened-in porch, reading John Irving.
She will see a spirit moving along the road before he plunges into the mangroves.
She will lie down outside at night and look up. One star will shoot by, one will slay her.
She will wash her hair until it turns red with the blood of stars.
She will cut her hair and throw it onto the bones that have risen in the midden. She will watch it disappear and then she will recognize herself, but not always.
She will surround herself with mounds of poems, ghosts of stories. Writers will preach to her at night when there are no other sounds.
She will sleep the sleepless sleep of ghosts.
She will hunt for fossils on the north end of the key where the sand is black from the crushed bones of the Pleistocene.
She will bend to pick up teeth of a requiem shark, the barb of a stingray.
She will bless Equus and Mammoth, who once visited this place, like her.
She will feel the sea in the channels of her own bones where the nerves run up and down, making sense of all things.
She will fondle a sloth claw, fragments of a wolf tooth.
She will place the mouth plate of a puffer in her own mouth.
She will listen with the inner earlobe of a whale.
She will walk along the trough that lines the surf at low tide, searching for incisors.
She will hold the catfish spine in her hand and her hand will glow glacially. Ice sheets will slip down her sides and melt among her toes.
She will inhabit the shadows of modern-day pelicans who inhabit the feathers of pterodactyls.
She will experience the Cenozoic as large cats move outside the hermitage, breathless from the mystery of the direction of time.
She will perch precariously on the line between dead and living, a line, she knows, that resembles the vein in her right wrist.
She will open her windows to sea sounds and when the sea comes close, she will remember the recent dead and the dead of thousands of years past.
She will grow to see in the dark.
She will wait for the loggerhead in gibbous moonlight.
She will notice that the moon is a three-quarter pearl.
She will notice that the moon is a seed with its mouth closed.
She will practice headstands, but only in her mundus imaginalis, her imaginary world. In her imaginary world she can last upside down for hours. Her head will open with light.
She will make a map of sea turtle tracks.
She will think about the ghost crabs running suicidally into the first storm of the season.
She will walk out to see them, into the storm called Arlene.
She will drag her body to the sea like a loggerhead and leave her babies behind to fend for themselves.
She will feel the twirl of her DNA inside her.
She will hear the music she makes as it ravels.
She will enter the Lake of the Gulf of Mexico headfirst and her flippers will work perfectly.
She will plan her return for the same time next year and will note it in her calendar in coconut milk and hibiscus.
Self-Portrait With Avocado And Yeats
Yeats preferred vampires
to ghosts, someone says.
The man beside you
shrugs at metaphors.
Sharks surround you
in your invisible bikini. Yeats
makes you hungry, you say.
Florida crashes into you.
There is no line between water and sky. Blue and blue and blue and blue. The seamless lay of all things blue. Yesterday a young man told his children that the best way to catch a carp is to stick a small piece of seaweed on a hook and lower it into the carp’s bed. Since carp prefer a clean bed, he said, they’ll pick the seaweed up and get hooked. Gotcha, he said.
Everyone drives over the Calusa midden, underground store of shell and bone from dune to bay filled with discarded things, abandoned things, broken things. The storm flooded the midden last night. Now the earth slopes down to the bones and the memory of sun, the way it shone on people who once walked here with flesh and minds and tongues.
This morning I open shutters and stare up at the Gulf of Mexico, risen above sea level in the stormy night. The waves are frantic, untimed, and local boys arrive to ride them. They know they’ll get battered but they’re jubilant with their boards under their arms. They were here until nightfall and here they are again.
I place a small whelk from the east coast on the midden to create a butterfly effect. Or to give something I love in return. Water everywhere. I can see and hear it on the Gulf side and I can see it glistening through the mangroves on the bay side. Lemon Bay. When the last native died, who buried her?
Surfers swim out but are taken northwest too fast to stand up on their boards. People shell like mad. The day dawns bluer than yesterday.