Beth Sherman

Loxahatchee Blues

Barely sunrise and already four alligators have crawled

     out of the murky waters of the Intercoastal.

        Draped across rocks, the remains of dead logs,

          scaly road blocks on the narrow path prompting

             tourists to pause, squealing in mock

              fright to snap a picture with their phones.


If you were here you’d say: another beautiful

    day in South Florida, damn it.

You’d smile at the tourists, a fellow retiree, a scratch golfer in plaid

     slacks and green polo shirt. Hand them free key chains

   from Solco Plumbing Supplies because

              you never know when a sink will clog, when

             a toilet will stop mid-flush.


An anhingha spreads its wings, attacking

    the early morning stillness. Black feathers coated with oil

    head drooping on its slick rotten breast.

Egrets, little blue herons, great blue herons, black crowned night herons.

We’ve seen all the herons in the Peterson’s Guide Book and now there’s nothing

               left. Now I can’t stand the sight of them.


At the edge of my retina a surprise fluttering

   shock of yellow under tail. If you were

            here we’d raise our binoculars.

                                        Palm Warbler!

Ecstastic, high fiving, as if we’d hit the Mega-Millions.


You’d step over the gators. They’re babies. . .

                they won’t eat you. Take my hand, tell

  me how the Everglades is protected land.

      You could run drugs in these waters,

           kill a man, dump his body over the side of a motorboat

                 and still be at Wolfie’s in time

                               for the Early Bird.

At the end of the day

 it’s a swamp, baby girl.

 A trussed up

 political hockey puck. A no account

               muddy swamp


 I miss it, our swamp. Years migrating, two, seven, nine, fourteen, 

   so it’s a different laughing gull who shits on the window

      of my car outside Ruby Tuesday’s after one beer too

             many – before I go home with men whose names

                  I never bother to keep.


Turkey vultures perch on a cypress tree,

        preening, stretching, observing me coolly

        like arthritic old men waiting

    for the seasons to change

    for a gin fizz nocturne

    for rain or the devil

    for a swallow to forget

    it’s a meal for bigger birds,

    for a gator to open its jaws and catch a tourist or

         three, snapping through bone,

         a clean satisfying break. 


Sometimes when I’m gardening in my

    Backyard, thousands of miles from Boynton Beach,

    I see a sparrow watching from

       the top branch of the highest pine and

                     I think you’ve come back.

                             False comfort.


If you were here, you’d say: feed my ashes to the cattle egrets

    scatter them in the Atlantic far from anything you

       ever loved,

    the waves depositing you again and again and

           again and again and

glittery mica in the sand

          a torn starfish, jagged green sea



                                       the tops of my feet.


Minor Planets

 It’s my lunch hour so I drive to Burger Heaven,

         sit on top of a picnic table in the parking lot

watching Billy Plaskin bring fried clams and watered

        down Cokes to people whose idea of fine dining

        is when there’s still enough paper napkins left in the dispenser.

Hot dogs soak in water so long their skin gets all crinkled

Too much salt in the fries, too much trash in the ketchup smeared bins

         I used to have to empty at the end of my shift.


Billy Plaskin has three moles on the inside of his thigh,

          shaped like a snow cone.

There are calluses on the tips of his fingers,

          his eyes so pure blue they look fake

You could slide a blade of grass between the gap

  in his two front teeth.

 If I don’t love him it’s not for lack of trying

        or because he hums to himself when he sweeps

            out the storeroom, a Chubby checker tune.

Not Let’s Twist Again.

     A song on the flip side most people don’t  know.


After closing time nothing’s moving in the lot

    but windblown trash and cicadas and Billy and me.

His hand slips under the waistband of my shorts.

I pretend not to notice anything,

         not the splinter lodged in the small of my back,

         not the greasy smells or the way he sighs like a grateful St. Bernard.


Are stars solid or white sparks

       from a distant cigarette?

  What remains of minor planets

          after meteor showers?

          Bright dead points of light?

Billy shows me Ursa Minor,

      ladle and bowl like a shovel

             pinned to black licorice night                                                            


BETH SHERMAN has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review and is forthcoming in Hartskill Review. Her short stories are forthcoming in The Portland Review and Joyce Quarterly. In spring 2013, she was a writer-in-residence at The Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York City. She has also written five mystery novels, published by Avon Books, a division of HarperCollins.