blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Florida Ghazals

   (reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin)

in memory of John Stephen Reece


Down here, the sun clings to the earth and there is no darkness.
Down here, the silence of the sea and the silence of the swamp seep into our

All night, Dolores labors between the sea grapes and the empty park.
Our town prostitute, she listens for a long time. Her listening makes her strong.

The teenage boy locks his door and combs the obscene magazine.
His callused left hand chops the gloss in waves. The silence of the naked ladies

The Cape Sable seaside sparrows’ population dropped 25 percent. Females are
Male calls are counted and multiplied by sixteen: this is how we track what cannot
        be seen.

Gay waiters examine their haircuts in the mirrors.
Perhaps tonight their pursuit of love will end in some permanence?

Juan escapes from our prison; he duct-tapes Playboy magazines to his rib cage.
With his glossy carapace, he vaults over the razor strips of the chainlink fence.

Egas Moniz wins the Nobel Prize in 1949 for pioneering lobotomies.
I am a pioneer of silence but the silencing of madness haunts me because it is


The hairdresser measures his delicate architecture.
Do all of life’s devotions dissolve at the shores of the day’s ugly punches?

Dolores teases her blond hair a foot in the air, her hair the one perfection
in this low-income town, a conspicuous example of Darwinian sexual selection.

Consider the teenage boy again. His locked room is a diorama of loneliness.
He bucks his hips until his hurricanes of desire are arrested. Then comes a deep

Weather. Weather. How’s the weather?
When I speak of the weather is it because I cannot speak of my days spent in the

Juan sinks into the swamp thick with processed excrement.
Nude paper ladies sink him like cement, silencing him.

The men in the gym slow down their repetitions, their biceps grow; they are silent
        in their strength.
When does silence go from being an asset to a liability?

All this beauty. Butterflies at the ankles. Birds, birds.
When hurricanes come with their bad names, they ruin this place like madness.


Elizabeth Bishop was five when her mother went mad.
They locked her mother away in Nova Scotia and Elizabeth never saw her again.

The men on death row are gathering in their silence, not unlike the Miccosukee
        tribal leaders
who sit in their thatched huts in the swamp and murmur over mistakes made.

The black prison guards shoot bullets into the dark and swear at Juan.
Their blue armpits open and close. They will not be satisfied with anything but

Tonight the gym fills with strong male groans.
I am among these wordless men bent on increasing their size.

I keep vigil by the light of my 6o-watt bulb.
The unmarked mass grave of the 1928 hurricane beckons me.

Long ago my cousin was murdered, drowned in a river in St. Augustine.
He was twenty-three years old. My aunt went mad. Now I speak for the dead.

In the summer, there is heat, silence and no people. This is the weather of
In the summer, it rains sideways, leaking through the roofs of our mouths.


When Elizabeth Bishop lived in Key West the sea breeze brushed her with peace.
This aquamarine sea, these royal palms assuaged her. So too with me.

Even at Christmas, hornets hiss in the kiss of the hibiscus.
Our seasons come upon us silently.

I hear Juan drown in the night, his mouth stuffed with rain.
The swamp water jiggles its razors at his throat.

When I come out at last from the dark I am committed.
I press my fingers on the keys. There are no more locked wards.

At dawn the pelican spears the sea spastically.
Down here, everything gushes with the phlegm of dependency.

Bethesda-by-the-Sea cools with the gossip of the dead.
The ministers attend to the living, inserting wafers like coins dropped into slot

Florida is a frontier built by escapees.
We electrocute men. No one’s past is certain.


Philomela held her cut tongue in her hand like a ticket.
Although her past was history, her silence strengthened her, gave her wings.

In Lantana, at night, the 1950s pink tubercular sanatorium glows with florescence.
Behind the dirty jalousie window slats, the AIDS patients play cards.

When I came to this place I had nothing of the past, no photo albums, nothing.
Silence is my ancestor.

That night my cousin must have been scared, surrounded by the muscles of men.
He must have fought back, he must have cried out. Or was he silent?

I press on the keys of the typewriter attempting to record all those lost and
But there are too many; I cannot keep track.

The Haitian ladies throw back their regal heads and move down the sidewalks slow
As if they were on the deck of a ship taking them away from some awful place.

Alligators swallow the summer light. The thick grass eats the sidewalk.
Whatever is built here is quickly overrun with the advance of chlorophyll.


Robert Fitzroy, the father of weather forecasting, slit his throat with a razor.
Is it brooding on the future that drives us mad? The silence of it?

In a room, in an institution, I was. Behind me, a window with rain.
A chaplain attended me. We had nothing to share but silence.

Lantana, where I live, is home to the National Enquirer.
Their one-story locked headquarters resemble mental houses.

One year I lived in a Moorish hacienda, built in 1924. The walls were two feet thick.
My neighbor was a peeping Tom. At night his feet crushed the grass like a cat’s

In the bluish purple bruise of dawn, Dolores watches weather on TV channeled
        from a dish.
She lost her only son in Vietnam and now there can be no silence.

Waves open and close like doors between these islands called keys.
Sea horses shift in the shallows like coy Tiresiases and say: “Relax, everyone’s

At night I hear the electric chair whir.
Men who make terrible mistakes disappear here.


In the store there was a man who was more beautiful than his wife.
The man flirted with me, then showed a wallet, inside was a picture with children.

Easter in Palm Beach and at the Everglades Club the ladies sit before lemon tarts
on filigreed plates, their sprayed hair fastened on their heads like conch shells.

When the 1928 hurricane came it had no name.
Lake Okeechobee broke and 2,000 migrant workers drowned in their shacks.

It was dark and my cousin was alone. They dragged him to the river.
It rained for three days. They could not find him; when they did, no one knew his

In church we hear the jungle growing to meet the sea.
Each Sunday we remember the dead in silence, but it is not enough.

Florida has no memory besides the monarch butterflies who remember everything.
The sea glitters, fish disappear like keys. 0, this land of exits. This land of

When the last day of summer comes, the locals walk home wistful, discounted.
Down here, the lonely claim my voice and make it strong.  

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