Children of the Moon, Chapter 14: Fever Grass

bassroadTo read the preceding chapters, please start with the Prologue

Dust hovered around fence posts, cattle,
clumps of palmetto like the rings of Saturn,
grass withered into loose strings
and small animals crept from one prison
of shade to another

Frogs crouched by rivulets of water,
lungs beating hard, when Mira came to the river,
stepping over fallen columns of reeds;
she sheltered in charcoal shade to peer
into the glare above an eroded gully

The lone elm stood sentinel over the elusive river,
and she folded herself beneath the tree,
and became aware of an overwhelming silence
that created its own noise, a humming that came
and went, as if she were dozing and waking

Heat beat with miniature propeller blades,
spun away to slice tall grass, lop off cows’ ears,
chop down trees; in this swept and desolate place
Mira was a singular wheel turning on her own axis,
strong as oak, flexible as palm

The solitude drew her farther into the wild,
and with Solis beside her, inseparable,
they followed every sound, lifting their heads
to a bird’s long note, registering each change
in light, of its shift across their eyes

There were no paths;
Mira climbed rail fences thinned to the point
of breaking, and crossed cattle guards
of loose and weathered wood;
she had never been this far out

She spotted a red-shouldered hawk
on a pine branch surveying the fields;
Solis trotted sideways ahead of her

A piece of pine bark at her feet unfolded,
revealing two green luminous streaks
that hopped away, making her laugh,
watching it plunge into a swamp
rimmed by palmetto’s armadillo-like trunks

Mid-day she and Solis entered a savannah
and her hands brushed clusters of tiny white flowers
atop waist-high stems: Osceola’s plume:
native people and pioneers pounded its roots
to produce crow-poison

She walked through blue-eyed grass,
its petite flowers massing for effect;
her father told her a medicinal tea
was made by boiling the plant and roots,
giving it the name fever grass

A stream drifted down to the river;
snowy egrets, once hunted to near extinction
for their flowing silk-white feathers
to adorn ladies’ hats and dresses,
rose to fly to a distant maze of mudflats

In a central glade, among downed trees
and mushrooms as large as waffles
perched on rotting logs,
her feet sank into rich earth,
pushing into a piece of wood

She picked it up, turned it in her hands:
it had an odd shape, larger at one end
with several knobs: a bone, she realized,
wrapped it in leaves, put it in her knapsack
and retraced her way home

On the dusty driveway she waved
to her father; and he greeted her:
Mira, where’ve you been?
She answered, undoing her knapsack:
Way out. In the swamp.

I found something; a bone, big enough
to be a cow or a bear.
She held it for him to inspect

Her father flinched, his face riddled
with recognition and terror:
That’s human, he said, and large enough
to be an adult; his voice choked:
we have to call the Sheriff.

Mira stared at her father’s stricken face,
searching for his usual calm:
I can take you to the place I found it,
she offered, but he nodded no:
Wait until I talk to the police.

Sheriff, deputy sheriffs, met them
a half hour later; and she set off with the posse
through the woods, trying to recall her steps
but afraid to stop too long to let any confusion
set in, following her intuition

She saw the marsh and the path
she made before; sunlight shafted
into the glade: there was a frame of sorts,
collapsed and rotting and odd shapes,
which at first could be taken for roots

Forming a circle around the spot
several deputies pushed aside detritus
and slowly revealed another bone and
then another; a skull began to appear,
and the circle tightened, voices raised

Mira felt a hand on her shoulder
guiding her away; she stumbled up the slope
from the deep moist shade:
all she could think about, all she could see,
were the corroded bones

Evening came, fireflies sizzled from the grass;
Mira waited for her father late into the night
but he never came home

In the morning she read the headline:
Woman’s Body Found in A Swamp;
and the heat was a living being moping by,
pickled with alcohol, an odor
that filled into the home and yard

A single engine plane humming overhead
drew Mira out of the house
and across the amputated road’s end,
into the fields, dreaming into the sky,
just as her father drove up

Mira joined him on the porch;
he lit a cigarette, saying:
I know Blanca Cors. A beautiful woman,
and a kind person. And this woman they’ve found,
who would do something like that?

He exhaled a plume of smoke:
After her husband died, Blanca was alone;
their only child disappeared years ago;
I used to stop by her house after work
to talk and tend her roses.

Mira was surprised, and he said:
The Royal Poinciana in her yard
have sturdy trunks, delicate leaves, bold flowers.
She asked me to plant them as markers
for her lost son and husband.

Leaves slithering in wind at the edge
of the yard seized Mira’s eye;
heat lightning flickered in the distance;
cigarette smoke wreathed his face:
I thought they might suspect me in her attack.

Mira saw her father’s cigarette flare:
I have to go, Mira. I can’t stay here anymore;
you’re almost grown and can take care of yourself;
whenever you need advice, you can always go
to your grandmother and her family.

The jeep swept around the track,
red taillights winked behind a screen
of tangled oak, grapevine,
pop ash and pine;
and then silence

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