Everglades Triptych

By Karla Linn Merrifield

Read Karla Linn Merrifield's three poems created after a 2009 residency at Everglades National Park.

Everglades Botanical Villanelle

Green inspirits the Everglades’ deep night
and teaches us to bow to wind by day.
Breathe, breathe into us; may we dream thy light.

Slash pine, mangrove, cypress, bay know the right
path—such needled saints, leaved martyrs are they.
Trees inspirit the Everglades’ deep night.

Bladderwort, floating heart, spatterdock bright,
and mild turtle grass of Florida Bay,
breathe, breathe into us; may we dream thy light.

By sun, by moon, pith to peat in life’s flight,
algae and palm alike point the good way.
Ferns inspirit the Everglades’ deep night.

Epiphyte, orchid, sedge, and reed give sight,
instill wonder, color Earth again gay;
breathe, breathe into us; may we dream thy light.

May gumbo-limbos grow full height,
and lichen on nurse logs prosper, I pray.
Green inspirits the Everglades’ deep night.
Breathe, breathe into us; may we dream thy light.

Pine Island Reveille

At first light of day, first bird call is a cardinal’s as he arrives from among slender slash pines. The trees’ high black crowns emerge against dawn’s cerulean, their roots swathed with ruby.

Across the lane, a dog barks, heralding first business to be done. Park ranger at the other end of the leash scratches first of many duties off his mental to-do list.

Above a clatter of crockery within the nearest bungalow, first work gets under way. A wife announces the hour to her husband; first human voice intrudes.

Rose pales to pearl along the upland horizon to the east; first white of day rises on bird wings into thinning blue. After a cold night, first details of day emerge: With red-headed urgency, woodpeckers hammer first blows.

First sun appears. Its heat stirs no wind, no clouds mask its face. Starlings begin to bustle and red-shouldered hawks are first in the forest to fly beyond the horizon. It will be mid-morning before the chill lifts. So black vultures, last to commence their rounds this day of firsts, sleep late.

Everglades light has come. I snuff the candle. A crow caws.

1513: Ponce De Leon and The Fountain of Death

All flora and fauna,
panther among them, knew.
On a hawk’s cry
from mangrove to mahogany
they received word.
He would come
for slaves and gold
on the first white sail.
He would arrive
in courtly velvet shoes
and glinting armor.
He would come
with crossbow, sword, cross, the pox,
and greed and glory and God.
Even the periphyton understood
he would come
to conquer La Florida
and its Everglades’
sweet river of grass.

Artist's Statement

During my Everglades AIR (2009) and as a plein-air poet, I created a body of poems rooted in place, which became a part of the full-length book manuscript I completed during the residency and titled Chasing Moons in the Everglades. To write these poems, I first experienced specific Everglades habitats (e.g., a cypress dome), observing them with a naturalist’s as well as a poet’s eye. I inhabited the Everglades and it inhabited me, I then translated my findings into poems. In the process I make new discoveries about the nature of nature – and man’s role in it. The poems also embody my belief that poetry furthers the sacred and that there is nothing more sacred than preserving the Everglades...and the planet.