Children of the Moon, Chapter 3: Mulberry Ranch

From the Myakka the swamp flooded away
in all directions, and in the river’s eye the ghost
of Ponce de León wandered in search of immortality

Within the swamp Will and Sandy found dry ground
on an island of live oak and cabbage palm
filled with the shadows of Seminoles
seeking refuge from U.S. soldiers;
and they walked on to forge a new path

By a marsh dotted with yellow eyes:
each flower on a single stem of tall grass,
a stream overflowed its margin,
and high in cypress trees maroon orchids
fell toward perfect reflection

The brothers rested on an oak’s undulating limbs;
Sandy lifted his head at tweaking vines:
a phone ringing in the wilderness;
when he eased aside moss and myrtle
creatures revolved away, perturbed:

Wood roaches the size of his palm,
spongy growths leaving bands of slime,
furls and curls of ridged lichen,
parasites often unseen by experienced eyes,
and creatures from early evolutionary time

Mira’s white shirt gave her away
and she climbed into the old oak with Will;
Sandy jumped down and leapt into the cypress,
calling from a tangle of wax myrtle:
Here’s another way to the trail.

With an eye out for poison ivy’s toxic fringe
the little group came again to the old Indian trail
and in time to the shell mound
where Will dug into a quavering layer of debris
and held up sun-scorched oyster shells

Mira let run through her fingers
a handful of whelk and mussel shells,
pearls of an ancient time

Through pink trunks of stopper trees
and limber branches of pine acacia, the children
rambled down the hidden path

Above the lazy river and cruising alligators,
they saw on overhanging branches,
flashes of great white egrets, serene patches
of little blue herons, swatches of roseate spoonbill,
safe from raccoons and other predators

The little boat was resting in a bed
of spear-shaped leaves; a gator snoozed
in the shade and a row of red-bellied turtles
decorated a fallen tree trunk:
each rivaling Monet’s lilypads in the water

Treading lightly by wraithlike spider lilies
the three climbed into the boat, pushing off
with a dull clunk of oars echoing downriver;
in a panorama of marsh and sky,
they were centered in the heart of the Myakka

They hid the boat on the far shore, in reeds
by a pasture crisscrossed by wooden fences
crowned with barbed wire

Mulberry Ranch, Sandy murmured, as he led them
to a crêche of longleaf pine and laurel oak
and in this shelter a small wood cabin

Will bent his knees as a black-white-and-red arrow
flash-jetted between the trees;
Pileated woodpecker, boomed a voice,
and the children swung around:
Shadow!

Shadow’s face twisted into a smile
as he waved to them; they sat in the shade
to hear his stories of long ago:
of tiny three-toed horses, wooly camels
and very, very unusual mammals

While they were listening a man came
riding up on a golden Palomino:
So these are your rescuers, he said to Shadow,
as he dismounted; thanks to you all
I have a new caretaker of these lower pastures.

Will defiant and awestruck asked: Your ranch?
The man smiled at the children and answered:
My eyebrows are bushy, my gaze
dense with thought, intensely wrought;
my shoulders droop and arms sway
and while my hands are as pointed
as the tip of my tongue,
mother’s milk runs through my veins;
my joy spikes minute and myriad
to herald the fruits of my labor,
but these are yours to eat

And then he said: Mira Apaksi, I know your father,
we served in the war together;
he tipped his hat to all: Morris Rubra, a comrade
in harm’s way; laughing, he added:
And now a lawyer; I defend the hopeless.

Morris Rubra walked with Shadow to the cabin
and spoke to him before riding away
with a cheerful wave to all

Around them clouds were blowing up
in soundless explosions; and heading home
they deftly steered the boat across the river

Weaving their way through frothing elderberry,
they hopped a ditch to a shifting border
of sand and limestone beside a two-lane road
searing through a green landscape;
heat flash-fired their shoes on the blistering blacktop

They ducked through a pasture fence,
scrambling up a gravel incline to railroad tracks
curving by a flurry of trees;
the tracks vaulted over a steep-sided creek,
a lean wiry stream draining Florida’s wounds

Will and Mira placed pennies
on the dusky bronzed metal tracks
before moving onto the trestle’s crossties;
a wolf-mimicking cry ruptured the silence,
spilling crows and mockingbirds into the sky

Will jumped toward Mira, but a foot slipped
between the planks; Sandy pulled him free
as Mira leapt by; and skidding across gravel
they rolled down to the man-made gash
as the train clattered wildly overhead

That was close, Will exhaled
while Sandy pressed his handprints
into the creekside;
on the tracks they found the coins,
like motes of the sun, too hot to handle

A quickening pulse in the air frisked about
as gusts of heat nosed along their skin;
a chemical burning-off, acid-lifting explosion
echoing the rippling implosion
of sweet pain

To read Children of the Moon, The Prologue click here
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 1: The River’s Eye, click here
To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 2: Shadow, click here

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