|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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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
Everglades ballad In the Pines Homo Pyrotechnicus Watching the Shuttle
The Purple Gallinule Piney Woods Sugar Mosquitoes Nothing Out There