Here for one month, I’ll say it at the outset:
I won’t go until I see the snakes King and
Indigo. Although ultimate goal’s not merely
to see but to become one with it—
spend my days just being in the very heart
of it, lazing away a part of each day dozing
under pond apples with alligator—pig frogs
chanting their lullabies nearby, drifting
with Florida gar—unconcerned with going far,
staying alert, finding a way to interpret sloughs
and solution holes—to engage with quiet surfaces
and June’s subtleties, to creep as graciously as the
grassy river flowing south—marveling at what each
component’s all about. No doubt the voice of hope
rings louder here than that of despair. I hear it
everywhere: sense of wonder reawakened,
sense of awe as eyes have taken in vast expanses
of sawgrass through which Earth whispers and
gestures, then speaks loudly and clearly in roars of
male alligators, snorts of pig frogs, harsh calls of
marsh birds. I’ve come, as Job suggested,* asking
anhinga, panther, gar fish, alligator to teach me.
Loosening my hair as Li Po instructed, I’ve come
to where water flows imperceptibly to sea
though we cut it with swords.** I’ve come
to wake and sleep in the arms of the ‘Glades,
to stand quiet as a stalking bittern blending with
sawgrass, to sit at its feet that it might teach me.
Then to go back and ignite one mind, one heart
with one tiny spark.
*Job 12:7–8; **Li Po
Poems from the Everglades
A 2007 residency at Everglades led to these three poems from Diana Woodcock.
Everglades: Day One
Here for one month, I’ll say it at the outset:
Beggar in the Everglades
It pierces my heart till I rejoice when the mosquito pricks my finger for blood to nurture her eggs, initiating me into the life cycle of this place to which I’ve come like meeting someone for the first time and feeling I’ve known her all my life. They tell me their life story, and I’m converted—born again—their waters, slow-moving shallow river rising with summer rain, baptize me. And I’m forgiven—sins of omission (failing to do the little I could do to protect and restore them)—draining, bull-dozing of their sawgrass prairies. Washed in the blood of a million plume birds, I offer my body to be bitten, slashed, burned, but they neither punish nor scold; they are gentle, delicate even in their pain, in their sentient struggle to regain their rightful place. Sovereign in tenacity, endurance of extremes: drought, deluge, plenty, starvation, disaster. They are the sisters I never had—graceful, brave, beautiful. Symbol of fortitude, rainbow after the storm. Stasis in the mangroves, pivot of manatee and speedboat. I walk softly, silently—afraid of killing, injuring, disturbing anything in this fragile place. Red-winged blackbird taking over my favorite post and alligator dozing on my path remind me I’m the intruder—here today, gone tomorrow; they have been, will be, here forever.I lift up my cup and bowl for them to fill, walk humbly through sword-sharp sawgrass by the slough, admiring the slender beauties heaven-made: egret, heron, anhinga, ibis, wood stork, bittern, limpkin. Bowing before them, I pray for their flame that I might burn through the dark night and give light. Their flight and calls like alternations of Koranic recitations and mystical music. Let a green bird—heron preferred—descend on my head if indeed I am the elect. Let me make collyrium for my eyes from the dust kicked up by the alligator, that I might see more clearly and die pure. Let the master mixer of the red sulphur elixir, the roseate spoonbill, transform my soul into pure gold. Then, great egret white and delicate as falling snow, send me forth as arrow to pierce hearts set on destruction.
In the Company of Alligators
They were the last thing
I went to see—could not
imagine what the attraction
could be. I went for birds:
anhingas, spoonbills, egrets,
herons. And swamp lilies.
Manatees and dark, steamy
mangroves. Maritime fauna.
Palmetto palms and pig frogs.
Whispering of wind across
But I was hooked the moment
I spotted that first one dozing
along Anhinga Trail. Hearing
the bellowing of two echoing
across the slough—a sutra—I knew
they were saints if not prophets,
beyond good and evil, soul-readers
seeing by God’s light, wildly created,
audacious, hypnotic, driven
forward by practicalities—not
hostilities, in control—rulers but
not dictators of the slough, kings
of the vast river of grass, a dark
tense presence, unadulterated motion
among soft-shelled turtles, garfish
and fallen ripened pond apples.
Sinking deep into my awareness,
triumphantly fulfilling my need
for distinct, unabashed wildness.
Even here, back now in my desert,
the Everglades flows through my days,
bellows of alligators like plain chants
echo in my ears—rhapsody, love song
so endearing, drowning out the
groaners of this sad world.
Hosanna to the alligators
in the highest: Glory be
to their Maker.
Writing is my way of promoting worldwide justice and caretaking of the earth. Having lived for nearly eight years now in an oil-rich desert sheikdom, where I teach at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, I have become most interested in local and global conservation issues. As poet-in-residence in the Everglades, I focused on conservation efforts there and considered what aspects of that project might be applied to Qatar’s crisis. The three poems I am submitting represent how deeply I was inspired by the Everglades and how much it is ingrained in my consciousness. When I go into the Arabian Desert, I observe closely the flora and fauna—as I did there—so that I can represent them concisely yet vividly in poetry to inspire readers to a greater commitment to protecting the environment.
Some of my Everglades poems have been published in journals. Others were featured on banners displayed throughout the Everglades during the O, Miami Festival in April 2011. My ultimate goal is to publish two collections (one for adults and one for children) that tell the Everglades’ story (past and present) and proclaim its wish list for the future.