Ode to Florida

Erica Kenick

Your Okeechobee eye didn’t see us coming,
Walkman and pet parrot in my lap,
but I spied you from the boxed-in backseat
on the East Coast map, a swampy turtle head
so close to becoming your own island, our new home.

From car to house and back again I trudged
heavy-footed behind my parents.
We filled the stucco-roofed house
with our Northern belongings that also
seemed uncomfortable with this weird air.

The front yard appeared prepared
for catastrophe: thick-rooted palms
with their sandpaper trunks,
the leathery leaves of shrubs
like stegosaurus scales –
even the flowering plant only feigned delicacy,
its tender pink blossoms concealing thorns
and a toxic sap as white and fluid as milk.

Florida, your land is an armor of prehistoric secrets,
resistant to squall and neat county lines.

Our quick settling-in created friction
in the atmosphere. We never knew
lightning until it fizzled our AC unit
and sent us packing to another hotel
our first night in town.

Everything here is heavy and volatile;
the air itself conspires to re-gift
moist heat to hurricanes.
My father and I would pen their arcs
on a gridded chart, exciting galaxies
that meant no school, a dark house, and living
confined with the potted patio plants.

In adolescence, Florida, you killed my sex appeal,
frizzing my hair and melting my make-up.
Your shores and community pools
forced my baby fat on premature display.
I would daydream about standing beneath
some outrageously purple bougainvillea
where a faceless boy invited me
to lie down right there and take things
further. But that’s as far as things went
because the grass was all wrong.
Stabbing, inflexible, undying,
St. Augustine grass, like its reformed namesake,
did not condone promiscuity.

Freshly adult and at ease, sipping café con leche,
I eye your shore and see it as the friendly skin
of this country’s warm sandy hand,
ever extended; a golden landing strip,
glittering marker of freedom for so many.

Florida, you are some fertile earth mother
America does not deserve.
Even in suburbia where we forced
your marshland dry with melaleucas, even
in the thicket of Miami steel and causeways,
something blooms. If the lawnmowers,
the highway hum, the construction work
that never stops or barely begins
would rest, I would rest, too,
with the sounds of water and something
moving, always moving, in the Thatch Palms.