In those days I thought their endless thrum
was the great wheel that turned the days, the nights.
In the throats of hibiscus and oleander
I’d see them clustered yellow, blue, their shells
enameled hard as the sky before the rain.
All that summer, my second, from city
to city my young father drove the black coupe
through humid mornings I’d wake to like fever
parceled between luggage and sample goods.
Afternoons, showers drummed the roof,
my parents silent for hours. Even then I knew
something of love was cruel, was distant.
Mother leaned over the seat to me, the orchid
Father’d pinned in her hair shriveled
to a purple fist. A necklace of shells
coiled her throat, moving a little as she
murmured of alligators that float the rivers
able to swallow a child whole, of mosquitoes
whose bite would make you sleep a thousand years.
And always the trance of blacktop shimmering
through swamps with names like incantations—
Okeefenokee, where Father held my hand
and pointed to an egret’s flight unfolding
white above swamp reeds that sang with insects
until I was lost, until I was part
of the singing, their thousand wings gauze
on my body, tattooing my skin.
Father rocked me later by the water,
the motel balcony, singing calypso
with the Jamaican radio. The lyrics
a net over the sea, its lesson
of desire and repetition. Lizards flashed
over his shoes, over the rail
where the citronella burned merging our
shadows—Father’s face floating over mine
in the black changing sound
of night, the enormous Florida night,
metallic with cicadas, musical
and dangerous as the human heart.