Everglades Ballad
I. The Vision  
  • The Grass, the glass-edged blades, the countless knives,
  • the stuff of sand and crystal in its cells,
  • drinking solar light and singing back
  • the diamond glint, to water at its roots.
  • The Grass, one single creature, in a dream
  • alone with water, sunlight and the sky.
  • Immortal, never older than a year,
  • the blades will die, the seeds grow fat and fall,
  • and the unnumbered leaves conspire to hide
  • the Riverís power, running to the Bay.
  • Pa-hay-okee: grassy river, wide
  • as Amazon, and shallow as a pond.
  • In its universe, the galaxies
  • of cypress, hardwood hammock, mangrove, pines,
  • live their separate realities.

click

  • The cypress spread their dripping, skirted roots,
  • still as granite angels on a tomb,
  • still as the gator, watching, onyx eyed.
  • Over dangerous pools, the ghostly moss
  • murmurs to the turtles, looking up
  • from logs, with reaching necks, as if in prayer.
  • Steps away the land is inches raised,
  • and possessed again by grass and sky
  • The hardwood hammock islands in the Grass
  • float like mythic, misted Avalon.
  • The orchid’s unexpected color lights
  • the darker shadows of the moss and fern
  • where the unconquered tribes made their last stand,
  • rooted, like the great mahoganies.
  • At the water’s edge, the Grass gives way
  • where the River’s mouth is licking salt
  • in the tangle of the mangrove roots.
  • (Only birds have seen the knotted heart
  • where no beast that walks on legs can go.

click

  • The slash pine stands on naked bones of stone,
  • a forest without shade, all lines and light.
  • In the breaking day, the spider webs
  • that run from trunk to trunk above the fans
  • of jagged green palmetto leaves, are lit
  • like burning letters written in the books
  • of elves, spelling mystic messages.
  • On the water in the grass, the sky reflects,
  • and nothing else but clouds can comprehend
  • the even reaching miles, the whispered voice
  • of insects, and the sawgrass and the air
  • repeating stories to the towered clouds
  • that breathe the water in, and pile it up
  • in miles-high thunderheads, and then exhale
  • in summer’s furious and drowning rain.
  • The breath and heartbeat of the ‘glades is rain.
  • There are no springs, no rivers underground.
  • This land is the planet’s newest born,
  • still dripping from the womb of Mother Earth.
  • Our ancestors were sitting at their fires,
  • chewing on their bones and singing songs,
  • when it found the shape it wears today.
  • Nourished from the sky by sun and rain,
  • It doesn’t have the fat of wells or soil.
  • Tender as an infant, it is frail

click

II. The Walking Dredge

 

 

  • The Stupendous Bay City Walking Dredge,
  • built latitudes away, where rivers freeze,
  • was a marvel of our brave, young century.
  • Arms and levers, cable drums and gears,
  • it stalked across the muck on six great feet.
  • Set the corners, wind the cables, lift
  • the center feet by inches, step ahead.
  • Set the centers, scoop the blasted marl,
  • build the road, extend the great canal
  • foot by foot, two miles in a month.
  • Before it, with machetes, men immersed
  • in muck and bled by bugs slash the Grass,
  • and the Grass cuts back, mixing blood
  • with every inch and mile that’s sacrificed.
  • Next the oxen bring the dynamite,
  • in wagons pulled on shifting wooden rails,
  • stumbling and bellowing, the beasts
  • haul more than two and a half million sticks.
  • At last, they break the rock below the mud,
  • and the dredge devours the earth and builds.
  • Behind it, on the newly cut roadbed,
  • roll the kitchen wagons, tools, and bunks
  • for the army of invasion, fighting through,
  • victorious at last, Gulf Stream to Gulf.
  • The Indians of the ‘glades learned to endure,
  • and some tribes shared a common ritual
  • for young men and women come of age.
  • Splinters inserted in the skin were burned,
  • creating scars to mark their fortitude.
  • When the Tamiami trail was cut,
  • the Everglades were scarred, forever changed.
  • But a power that was hidden, now is seen
  • by eyes that never scanned the trackless waste.
  • Seen, it may be feared less, valued more,
  • and valued, win its struggle to endure.

click

III.  Tesoro

 
  • It was given to me by a friend
  • as I was packing up for traveling.
  • No longer than my thumb, an envelope
  • labeled "MEXICO Tesoro," bright yellow.
  • Shiny plastic, stitched around by hand,
  • lined with cheap pink silk, full of saints.
  • Tiny colored pictures, one medal,
  • a fragment of a text, cut from a Book.
  • "It’ll keep you safe," he said. It did.
  • It also led me into miracles.
  • Plain ones, like the hazards of the road
  • escaped, and lousy weather missed.
  • But really good ones too, like flights of birds,
  • the spoonbills’ sunset wings against the sun.
  • Like the way a crow inspected me,
  • improving me by looking upside down.
  • Like really nice folks met along the road.
  • Most of all, it was the Everglades.
  • A tiny envelope of what it was,
  • endangered and beset, but wonderful.
  • On domesticated trails and walks,
  • the tourists, with their cameras, point and look.
  • "Oh my God, an alligator, Fred!
  • Take my picture! Oh! Don’t get too close!"
  • But they were here, and so was I, How else?
  • On a boardwalk, looking at the Grass,
  • I think, "However could you pass through this?"
  • But it has lifted me, and freed my mind
  • from the swamps that daily sucked me in.
  • I woke up with the dawn and watched the birds.
  • I built a fire at night and watched the coals.
  • I drove the road, but stopped along the way
  • just to look, and listen, and to breathe.
  • A tiny envelope of miracles,
  • but wide as I can see, and full of worlds
  • all different, and all a single web.
  • A little pocket amulet for God.
  • In the morning, as I leave, I’ll stop
  • and open my tesoro’s tiny clasp,
  • and tuck inside a little piece of Grass.
  • Sheri L. Lohr
  • 1/30/00

click

Everglades Poems

 Everglades ballad  In the Pines  Homo Pyrotechnicus  Watching the Shuttle  

The Purple Gallinule  Piney Woods  Sugar  Mosquitoes  Nothing Out There 

Everglades notes
Home
Everglades sawgrass
blue gator in cypress
slash pine forest
Tamiami trail dredge
Mexico Tesoro
Return to SeaStory Press