Sunday Apr 22

WoodcockDiana Diana Woodcock's first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant's Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize for Women (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2011). Her chapbooks are In the Shade of the Sidra Tree (Finishing Line Press), Mandala (Foothills Publishing), and Travels of a Gwai Lo—the title poem of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Currently teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, she has lived and worked in Tibet, Macau and Thailand.


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Everglades History Lesson One

 

First the Calusas, Mayaimis,
Tekestas came—living on fish and game,
fashioning tools out of seashells.

Then Spanish Conquistadors,
and Tekestas, Mayaimis were no more.
Only Calusas, scattered, remained.
But the Spaniards didn't stay—
frightened away by razor sharp-tipped
grass and squalling alligators.

Next, the Creeks—Muskogee-
speaking people from the west—
and Seminoles, kicked out of
the Carolinas by European invaders.

Then white hunters slaughtering two million
egrets and Roseate spoonbills for breeding
feathers to adorn women's hats, killing
alligators for hides to craft shoes and wallets.

Then engineers digging canals, draining
fresh water to make farmland and towns.

Then pesticides, fertilizers flowing
into the waters, poisoning one-celled
animals, snails, mammals, fish,
birds and plants. Doesn't everyone wish
 
for a happy ending? Endangered ecosystem
restored to its splendor? Swamp lily,
Calopogon orchid thriving? Crocodile,
Liguus tree snail, Green anole surviving
to extol the Everglades' glory—its central
solitudes holding fast time's secrets?

Doesn't everyone hope beyond all
hope Jeremiah heard wrong?*

*Jeremiah 4:23-28

 
 
Pa-Hay-Okee
—The Seminole Indians called the Everglades Pa-hay-okee, meaning grassy waters
 

Grassy waters beguiled me (too long
caught up in black holes, exploding
stars, the mystical sphere) back down
to Earth: sawgrasses; and between blades,
an ever so slowly rising, flowing river—
 
Earth's circulatory system draining into
the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean,
evaporating back into the atmosphere,
water composed of alligators' tears.
Sawgrasses swaying and setting tiny

blades against the rainy season's wind.
Courageous egrets tip-toeing through
shiny sharp edges of golden-green sedges.
Swamp lilies trembling among gar
and anhingas. Lingered

among them, endangered
if need be as the ones struggling
to survive: Cape Sable Seaside
sparrow, West Indian manatee,
Wood stork, Florida panther,

Indigo snake, American
crocodile, Apple snail
in this massive watershed—
America's largest sawgrass prairie—
where I came back down to Earth.

 
 
Grassy River
We need the tonic of wildness . . . to witness . . . some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
                                                                                                Henry David Thoreau
 
Needy, I came to the wet prairies
where at dawn I listened to bird songs
in pineland, sawgrass, hammocks,
cypress swamps. At dusk to cacophonous

Cricket, Green, Little Grass and Pig frogs
in Taylor Slough. Watched alligators,
gar, Soft-shelled turtles do
what their ancestors did. Stood
 
apart at the edge of the grassy river,
watching with my whole heart, the air
quivering with a wildness I didn't dare
touch. Rejoiced in the mystery. So much
 
we can't know. Clearly
herons, ibis, egrets were fishing;
could they be guarding as well
their watery domain from invaders
 
who envisioned it drained
for farmland and suburban sprawl?
Learned all about its changing
landscape and peoples—
 
Paleo, Archaic Indian, Calusa,
the Spaniards—how the derelict land
was made (contours of its bedrock,
thickness of its soils), how restoration
 
began, how mangroves lined Florida Bay
the day I walked there alone with one
Red-shouldered hawk keeping watch
from its Royal palm throne,
 
and how that Swallow-tailed kite soared
above a cypress dome. And the silence,
the timelessness in which herons,
ibis and egrets graze their grassy river.