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.
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
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.
If you were here, you’d say: feed my ashes to the cattle egrets
scatter them in the Atlantic far from anything you
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.
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.