Sugar
Oh Sugar!
Sugar. Sugar, Sugar
It's all about Sugar.
Acres and miles of it , tall, sweet-stalked grass
where the mean, razor edged sawgrass once ruled.
It's like the docile domestic cattle now grazing
on land once owned by the buffalo.

Sugar has the power 
to put the land to honest work,
all it needed was some metal in its spine.
Copper, manganese and zinc in the soil,
metals bitter on the tongue,
to sweeten the stalks of cane,
(and who gives a thought to the lost sweetness of the water?)
"Oh Sugar, jes' never you mind!"
Whip that water into line!
give it a little discipline
and it'll be sweet as Sugar.

A man named Napoleon,
still a hero in these parts,
drained and dredged and canalled,
and burned the feral sawgrass
and made room for Sugar.
So honest folk now make an honest living
and life is as sweet as it can be.
People who drive tractors and buy groceries.
People who wear jeans and boots every day.
People who put plenty of Sugar in their coffee.

Here's a pretty little town:
Tall Royal Palms line the highway leading in.
On one side neat homes
built of brick or white painted board,
with broad lawns and big trees,
a painted tractor tire planted with peonies,
and on the other side of the road
Sugar planted right up to the row of palms,
Announcing their civic pride
in the fine, tall, healthy Sugar.

A one-man garage is built out of Sugar.
A little beauty shop is built out of Sugar.
A school full of kids, sweet as Sugar.
Far out across the field, three tall stacks tally-mark the sky.
Conveyers and brown piles of refuse rise,
and teeth of mighty engines grind,
and chew the cane into Sugar.
Far away in a city tower, sit the men with the power
to chew the gold from Sugar.

The avenging Ghost of the Everglades
blew in '26 and '28
demanding human sacrifice,
took three hundred, then twenty-five hundred lives,
and destroyed the fields they made.
So those honest folk fought back,
took their vengeance on the lake,
incarcerated it with levees,
shackled it with canal gates,
put it to work for Sugar.

The River of Grass survives,
sucking water, that once poured 
like Mother Earth's milk from Okeechobee lake,
from miserly canals that give or take
according to the needs of Sugar.
Eating the metal and the phosphate,
spitting it out into the bay,
the River hasn't much taste for Sugar.

Who could turn it around, after all is said?
May as well try to walk across the Everglades.
Then again, the Tamiami Trail was cut,
with human sweat and blood and guts,
so surely there must be a way
for Sugar and Water to end the war
and see the River of Grass run clear,
and sweeter than Sugar.

8/26/01

Everglades Poems 

Everglades ballad  In the Pines  Homo Pyrotechnicus  Watching the Shuttle 

 The Purple Gallinule  Piney Woods  Sugar  Mosquitoes  Nothing Out There