Children of the Moon, Chapter 8: Wilderness Song

To read Chapter 7, click here
pasturegraySandy heard only the sound of his footsteps
as he ran along the roads and through woods;
he ran until the motion carried him
ecstatically, heroically forward; hours passed
when he thought of nothing

But an occasional calculation of direction
and time of day; he drifted along to sounds
without known sources, some near
and some too far away
to know if they were real or imagined

A symphony of random music;
this is the wilderness song:
belong, belong

A yellow carpet of bur marigold swept down
to the riverbank where the river’s current
sang the name Macaco

All along the border, river and streams
interlocked to nurture a living body;
Sandy rested in a cup of royal fern, his face
appearing in the foliage, and from his forehead
sprang a fountain of fruiting branches

He came in from the border to join his family,
helping to set out large plank tables
by the ranch house and load them with food,
while fresh steaks simmered
over an open pit fire

Downwind, behind a stand of trees
a vat of skunk cabbage was boiling;
Laurel and Will went to investigate
and Laurel asked the boys’ mother:
Where do you get these?

In the spring, she answered, orange-colored pods
burst out of the ground in the pinewoods,
and then these tender coils; all summer they grow.
But, she told Laurel, if a branch falls or an animal
brushes them, they give off a rotten aroma.

Will interjected: It smells like skunk spray
when you cook it, but it tastes okay,
he added quickly, like store-bought cabbage.

Chicken and hot dogs roasted on a grill
and baked beans, Bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes.
Vidalia onions, corn on the cob,
three bean salad, green beans,
hot sauce, jam and pies were piled on the tables

The women wore jeans and crisp shirts
and the men brown or blue pants
with slanted western-style pockets
and embossed leather belts with large buckles
and lariats with turquoise or silver

The boys and girls in blue jeans
and tees took off their cowboy hats
to sit with their families and friends
among the enormous oaks
as the day’s shadows gathered

When evening came, moonflowers expanded
in a dream on a web of vines;
Will drifted off to sleep in a comforting beam
of light, the sun’s belated gift:
a lightning stroke slowed down

A bird balanced on a branch, and while he watched,
the bird went through transmutations
of colors and shapes and attitudes,
crossfading from one into another;
Mira, he said, waking up

Banners of light drifted above all sound and reflection;
as the four explored Shadow’s garden,
Laurel cradled a welter of leaves:
He’s growing vegetables. Lettuce, radish
and tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes.

Shadow emerged from the pine forest;
Sandy’s eyes mirrored the changing scene:
It’s like a cloud the way he moves, filled with light.

But, Will pointed out, a shadow follows him;
I wish we could help him more;
and Mira said: It’s up to him now.

Shadow came to them:
I am rare and threatened, I am native and strange,
I move slowly among all things, I am these and more.

Shadow stood still, looking at the children:
I am a man in the prime of my life just awakening.
Sandy’s eyes swam with light; and Will exclaimed:
Primitivo! We’ll call you Primitivo;
Shadow considered this: That may be.

Mira’s father drove to Casey Key the next day;
pulling off on a road’s scattershot shoulder,
she watched him climb out to talk to fishermen,
inspecting the catch, trading stories:
Snook are good today.

They headed straight for the Gulf of Mexico,
the white lip of the beach blazing in the same sun
that had bleached the Calusa shell mounds,
the same sun that scorched
the Spanish conquistadors

Her father said:
Ponce de León saw Florida on Easter Day,
and named it Pascua Florida: the feast of flowers

Years later, a new expedition sailed from Cadiz;
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés with a thousand people;
in 1565 he landed on Florida’s northeast coast,
not far away from a settlement of French Huguenots;
he had orders to cast them out.

The French were here first?
He answered her surprise:
Up near St. Mary’s, but in two years the Spanish
had driven out the French
and built the city of St. Augustine

Menéndez set up seven garrisons on Florida’s coasts,
one of them here at Charlotte Harbor;
Did they really think there was gold here?
Her father responded with a laugh:
Menéndez had bigger plans

He believed Florida could be conquered,
both physically and spiritually;
he thought diplomacy would convert the native people.
But his soldiers attacked native villages,
and Spanish priests ridiculed native religious beliefs

When one of his forts was destroyed
Menéndez changed his mind;
he proclaimed the natives were savages,
and he asked the Spanish king to allow:
“that war be made upon them with all vigor,
a war of fire and blood,
and that those taken alive shall be sold as slaves
removing them from the country
and taking them to neighboring islands.”

You know those words from memory?
He sighed: I know those words by heart;
Menéndez died in 1574.
Everything he did was in vain.
Only St. Augustine remains.

And the Calusa? she asked him;
With a sigh he answered:
By the mid-1700s the tribe was gone,
devastated by war and disease,
leaving ragged scars on the human spirit.

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2 thoughts on “Children of the Moon, Chapter 8: Wilderness Song

  1. Macaco has the potential to be easily confused (or, at least, I at first glance confused it) with Macaca, a slur famously used by Republican George Allen during a 2006 election campaign in Virginia. But, of course, I realized almost at once that Macaca would be completely out of context in your beautiful poem, and so I learned a new word today!

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