Insect Life of Florida

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.

Lynda Hull, "Insect Life of Florida" from Collected Poems.  Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Lynda Hull.  Used by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006)
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