Florida Poems

I grew up in Florida and know the state has many layers. It’s a complex place with a long history, going back to ancient indigenous civilizations and early Spanish explorers in search of treasure and the Fountain of Youth.

Florida gets a bad rap in the media and recent events haven’t helped dispel the reputation of the state as a place where people do crazy things. When I was 12, I began to write about it. What evolved was a long poem, “The Sailor Circus,” named for the Sarasota high school afterschool circus program (which still exists). In my 20s, an agent encouraged me to write a novel based on the poem, but she later decided not to take it on. For many years both the poem and novel languished among my papers and computer files. A few years ago I used much of it in a novella, Covenant: Growing up in Florida’s Lost Paradise. These past few weeks I added in more of the original words, adapting them when needed to fit the narrative. And then, I took parts of it and made this poem. I’m offering it to give people a different perspective on the great state, the elusive and always transforming, place called Florida.

Florida

Visions of Atlantis.
The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy.
Sailing, circling, orbiting, we ride the tides,
before we merge with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, 
will we circle around to the other side,
     will we come back alive?
The resort town lies weblike on Florida’s Gulf Coast,
banyan roots in backland glades,
points of anchorage, where gravity takes hold,
rolls the city up each night like a window-shade.
Each morning beneath a peg-leg, pirate's sun,
the land unfurls, surfaces beneath the surface of the sky.
Mirages and miracles: buildings, beaches, marinas, 
     alligator farms, the circus. 

White pelicans mirror the clouds, 
moonflowers glow, passion vine 
and coral bells flourish, herons nest,
and a mockingbird sings of paradise. 
Ghost towns in morning glory and dust, 
carnivals and suburban malls in the marshes.
On the southern Gulf Coast, burial grounds
     of forgotten civilizations.

Echoes of Atlantis. 
Lost worlds, new worlds spiral, drop,
      rise and soar in a divine glare.

Gulf Coast’s angels’ wings and rare Juno shells,
a sea of dreams, with all things sailing
we navigate by the sun and moon,
flowing into ports of call, 
sailing with grief and ecstasy,
     the circuitous circus.

The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy—
the heavy vessels of the past empty their holds
and are refilled, flowing to the future with a purpose—
we carry precious cargo: hope, love.
Swinging across the globe, in tumult and calm,
we circle with the joy of fulfillment in time,
creating designs so potent
     they shape eternity.

Copyright 1974-revised 2022 by Mary Clark

The song, “A Salty Piece of Land,” by Jimmy Buffet, who pioneered Caribbean Rock’n’Roll in Key West, Florida, communicates the allure of a place, the sense of freedom, on the boundless sea.

Mary Clark’s fiction and poetry, all set in Florida:

Children of Light, poetry novel, Ten Penny Players/Bard Press

Covenant, Growing Up in Florida’s Lost Paradise (kindle only)

The Horizon Seekers, Amazon/Kindle

Racing The Sun, The Horizon Seekers Series Volume 2, Amazon/Kindle and Smashwords

My 4 Kindle Books #Holiday Sale

Four of my Kindle books on Amazon are 99 cents from today until midnight December 27th: two novels, a novella, and an illustrated epic poem.

The Horizon Seekers

A woman who lives both in the future as well as the present, Leila Payson strives to realize her visions. As a Miami high school teacher, she hopes that when her students fly, they’ll see beyond the horizon to where imagination and courage can take them. In her own life, she is haunted by early trauma, a failed romance, and a more recent loss. She doesn’t dwell on the past, though she learns from it, and instead challenges herself to be a better human being. Early in her teaching career, she goes to South Africa for a year, where she meets Baruti, the therapist who works with people with disabilities. When she returns, she puts what she’s learned to use. Raoul, a student, is losing his hearing and asks for her support. This begins the next step of her journey. All the while an attractive man with a book keeps appearing at her favorite places.

Excerpt:

As Leila drives to school, she is in a world of shining buildings. Doors are at ground level or have moveable ramps. She looks at the open space, trees, and people on foot or sitting in compact pods that pass quietly. The most visible part are the people. Calm, smiling, in apparent good health, they move through a landscape designed to accommodate the natural beauty around them.

Where is this? she wonders. What has happened? A couple walk on what appears to be a continually moving mini-magical carpet. Next to them, a child rides, a child with dark glasses. Blind?

Leila presses a button, and when a portal opens, she realizes she knew that would happen. The couple pause, hovering on their carpet, which is malleable enough to form fit their feet.

“Where is this?”

‘The vine community.”

“What city?”

“Miami.”

“And um, I know this sounds odd, but what year is it?”

“We don’t think in years anymore. It’s the fourth quadrant. But if you want you can convert that to November 2084.”

“And your daughter, is she blind?”

“Yes.”

“I thought that could be engineered out.”

“We chose not to.”

When Leila leaves the pod in a recharging slip, she walks to the school, and notices the building has changed. Gone is the brick and concrete and prison-like windows. It looks like wood and glass in artistic arrangement, a peaked roof on one section holding solar panels.

She tells herself it’s a vision. A look at an alternative life, at the future. It’s not real. Not yet anyway. To test this hypothesis, she touches a glass window. It feels hard, cool.

Walking into the school, the hallways revert to 2015. She shakes her head in disbelief. Am I losing my mind?

No, she decides. If I’m able to envision this, it might exist. Part of me is already living there.

Racing The Sun

In Book 2 of The Horizon Seekers Series, Leila Payson’s adventures in the present and the future continue as she handles with humor and the right mix of patience and impatience a new man in her life, an eclectic crew of friends, and a possible career change. She and her bf Caroline discuss aliens, panspermia, and artificial intelligence. She is surprised by a DNA match and changes in her family. Leila works on her new disability group, envisions playgrounds of the future, and aids Doug, a young man who is designing next gen wheelchairs. Haunted by a terrible memory, she hears a familiar voice in a crowd but can’t locate the man who’s spoken. Are some things simply never resolved? In that vein, her friend Dov travels to Cuba to see his lover, only to be rebuffed. But the others in the group are inspired to work on that; will they succeed? Another friend’s father is injured in a car accident. His adjustment to life as a disabled person intersects with Leila and Doug’s endeavors. At her school, Leila organizes a big tent meeting to discuss complaints in response to the rumors of a renegade guidance counselor. Meanwhile, Leila enlists the erstwhile Maria to help investigate the guidance counselor’s mysterious sister. Returning for a short visit to South Africa, she reunites with her mentor, the disability advocate Baruti. And finally, driving across SA to see the native flamingos, she discovers what Doug meant when he said he was “racing the sun.”

Covenant

Four children discover their Florida paradise has many layers. They become friends in changing times, which see the advent of the Civil Rights movement and rock’n’roll. Below the surface in their family lives, they find heights of hope and dreams, and dark secrets and nightmares. And they form a covenant which is challenged unexpectedly as they reach the threshold of freedom.

From the Prologue: Echoes of Atlantis. Old worlds bloom anew, spiral, drop, rise and soar, in a divine glare. Harsh angles appear in our lives, surfaces, beneath the surface of the sky: buildings, beaches, ranch houses in the pine forest and sand, alligator farms, the circus. Mirages and miracles, stringent salt and pungent seaweed, ghost towns in blue-eyed grass and dust, piano notes played by the flowering orange setting sun, we breathe the fresh bouquet of the lemon haze, emerge to the sweet melodies of dawn. And when, beneath a bright spotlight moon, the ships ride the midnight tide—sailing, circling, in concert with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, will we come back alive? Will we circle around and make it to the other side?

Children of Light

Dia, a young girl who lives on an island with her mother, discovers a boy who says his name is La-ha-ta, living in the wild. She brings him home. A kindly neighbor, Miss Pacer, befriends them. The Old Man of the Island fascinates and sometimes advises the children. La-ha-ta is placed in a group home. He escapes with Dia’s help, to be recaptured later and held in a detention center. He escapes and after a journey through wild Florida finds refuge in a small isolated community near the Everglades. Over the years, the children’s bond deepens. They seek relationships that will not compromise the integrity of others or themselves. One man hunts La-ha-ta, hoping to study him. Another boy, Eric, joins them, but must follow his own path. When Dia and La-ha-ta are captured, it seems all is lost. If they escape, if they survive, what will their relationship be, and will one or both return, and to what degree, to society?

Will we learn to live in society which allows each of us to have a personal recognition of reality and also a shared consciousness that accepts diversity and even conflict without physical violence, brainwashing or bullying, and exploitation? The active presence of those who are compassionate and reflective is essential. One character represents the calm values of Jesus, another is the initiator of the good, another the conflicted soul, another is flawed with hard-earned wisdom, and another the constant, the “charming gardener.”

Mary Clark has brought us an achingly beautiful chain of poems that both watch and listen: the sun, the sea, the darkness, the light, the passing of time—and the people who live among them. — The Reverend Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

Author Mary Clark, Interview

Marylee MacDonald, a gifted writer, in an interview with me for her blog, asked some challenging and insightful questions. Read the interview at maryleemacdonaldauthor.com

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Covenant: When We Left Paradise

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The friendships of four children are tested by family dysfunction, relocation and the changes of the 1960s. Set in semi-rural, part-suburban Florida, this short novel takes the children through school integration, civil rights, and the explosion of rock’n’roll music. Secrets and betrayal lurk beneath the seemingly normal surface. Orchie and Red seek love and a meaningful life, Bobby escapes his abusive grandfather and learns the truth of his parents’ deaths, and Lucy goes in search of her tribal family near the Everglades after her father leaves the family. In the atmosphere of the Gulf Coast’s vacationland, the circus, and great swaths of wilderness, their journeys tell the story of an era but are also universal. 

Covenant, by Mary Clark, Kindle

Excerpts from Covenant:

She saw clearly when she left paradise. He left the garden, seeing the world for the first time.

It is 1960.

Elvis’ voice is an ellipse from every hamburger joint. In rural Florida, subdivisions and truck farms, migrant workers camps, quarries, parks, ranches, rodeos, and small villages dissect the sprawl of the land. The circuses—Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, Clyde Beatty and the Cole Brothers—winter at the fairgrounds.

Children sit on their front lawns listening to transistor radios play soul and the blues, country, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll, words burning down in the sun, staying like liquid metal in their brains. Blue-jean babies, leather-jacket ladies, flying beyond their parents’ call.

Fishermen found Larson’s boat drifting on an estuary. The next morning, his body was found below an old boat ramp.

“He must have fallen, hit his head, gone overboard,” Earl said, “and his boat kept on going.”

Red and Orchie walked to Bobby’s house. He was standing at the end of his driveway, as if he had been waiting for them.

“The police came here and told me my dad was dead.” Bobby stuffed his hands in his jeans’ pockets. “I didn’t feel anything.” He hunched his shoulders. “But when they said I couldn’t live here anymore, I . . . I started to cry.”

Orchie put her arm around his shoulders.

In silence as they walked to the orange groves, Orchie imprinted on her memory the freckled nose and sprout of hair on the back of Bobby’s head, the too-small tee-shirt, the too-big blue jeans, and vowed never to forget.

A vision of the trading ships of the world coming into the harbor, bringing their gift, their legacy—sailing, sailing—the heavy vessels of the past empty their cargo and are refilled, flowing with a purpose, only to run empty across time and space to find that purpose again. Swinging across the globe and back, they circle quietly with the joy and ecstasy of fulfillment in time, until they sink into the fold and mantle of the sea, all the while creating a design so potent it shapes eternity.

Reviews:

That is a truly wonderful book Mary. I read it right through in one go and it held me spellbound. It’s like a glass of rich red wine.  You drink it slowly right to the end and then you say, Ah. – David Turnbull, writer, occupational coach

The story is soothing and stark, amusing and disquieting, individualistic and altruistic as it reflects through hours, days, months and years. Mary Clark’s writing is eloquent, even as she ‘speaks’ of poverty and violence, devastation and betrayal. It is word-rich with beautiful sensory descriptions that set the scenes – the woods, the swamps, the beaches, the small town – where the young people spend their time; a blend of raw reality and dreaminess that moves the narrative beyond the simple alliance of children to an agreement that requires them to look into their consciences and hearts. – Diane Denton, author

Plot, movement, characters, ambience, and metaphors. A series of scenes beautifully created and sewn together. Very satisfying. The complete picture will remain with you. – Sally young-eslinger, poet

My Writing Process: The Blog Hop Tour

DM Denton (http://bardessdmdenton.wordpress.com) invited me to participate in this Blog Hop Tour and answer four questions about my writing process. Diane is the author of A House Near Luccoli, All Things That Matter Press, an historical romance based on the life of the Baroque musician and composer Alessandro Stradella. An accomplished artist, she illustrates her own books. Her short fiction books include The Library Next Door and The Snow White Gift.

1) What am I working on?

I am taking a stab at philosophical essays, relying more on my sticky-note mind that gloms up ideas, phrases, points of view and a dim memory of wandering into the wilderness from time to time in my life, than any deliberate reading or traditional educational experience. Some of these essays are inspired by a writing group of thinkers, caregivers, teachers, and disabled persons: actually each person in the group embodies several or all of these “labels.”

Currently, I am working on Children of the Moon, or is it working on me? In this long short story, or novelette, a troubling and enigmatic character named Shadow is befriended by several teens. Two teenaged brothers, Sandy and Will, are separated as Sandy is convicted of assault and sentenced to a long jail term. Two teenaged girls, Laurel and Mira, face their own challenges along with those of the brothers. A rancher-lawyer, Morris Rubra, tries to help them all. There’s a bit of mystery in what happens to Sandy, and at the end, an unexpected link to another book of mine.

The other major project, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen, is much longer. This is what I call a “docu-memoir” of my early years on Manhattan’s West Side, working in the arts and transiting into community services.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Each of my books mixes styles, or genres. In this way, perhaps my writing will bridge the gap between very different people, and if I can achieve it, between and among diverse communities.

I’d like to think I’m part of a trend toward mixing genres and creating new classifications. One popular author, Alexander McCall Smith, in his detective series combines the slimmest mysteries with philosophy, social commentary, ethics, and a dash of history.

Tally: An Intuitive Life (All Things That Matter Press) is part memoir, part biography, and features conversations about philosophy and art history. It differs in that it doesn’t keep to a strict chronology, and two of the main characters’ names are changed, really a literary device. So it’s best described as that new amalgam, Creative Non-Fiction.

Children of Light (BardPress/Ten Penny Players) is a blend, or alternation, of poetry, poetic prose and dialogue, built around the themes or issues, and characters, rather than traditional plot lines. It is traditional in that it is chronological, but even in the specific times and places, there is universality. A reader called it a “poetry novel” years ago and the name has stuck.

Covenant (self-published Kindle Direct)  falls into a new category: Boomer Lit. It is primarily historical fiction, with occasional poems, calling on some of my own experiences growing up in Florida in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Other parts came from research and stories I heard later on.  There is little embellishment, which there often is in the historical fiction genre, but there are variations of theme and character, so it is my hope (it springs eternal) they appear at different stages, in different lights.

In Children of the Moon, my writing continues in this terse style, with metaphors bundled into a few sentences. These follow one upon another. Each sentence or two sentences is like a Tweet. I began writing like this about twenty years ago as modern life bore down upon me with all its stimulation and diversity. Before that, I was interested in the detail, the finest descriptions. The change helped me cull out the meaningful from the noise, and move on, because so much more is available, out there to be apprehended. Yes, there is a loss of the wonderful detail, the embellishments of 19th Century literature. But I think we receive and take in information differently now.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There’s the sheer beauty of the experience. It began with that, and still does. Writing is also an adventure into the unknown; sometimes it’s a response to a subliminal beckoning: into what you sense but don’t realize that you have any knowledge or understanding of until you make the journey. There are always surprises, times of pain, times of fun and epiphany.

Certain ideas and characters have been with me for years. With them I live through and express my reality. In a way they are avatars that I unleash in fictional or historical settings. The ideas that populate my mind, that Jungian garden, involve human motivation, our essential nature, and our role, if any, in the universe. So there’s a lot about intent, guilt and innocence, identity, relationship with the natural world, love and friendship, freedom, search for meaning, and death.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, for instance, is an unvarnished look at old age and dying, and how we determine the meaning of our lives. It is a story of caregiving and friendship across generations and values and lifestyles. It will challenge you as a reader.

4) How does your writing process work?

It would be a good idea to have one! I suspect I would be more successful. Basically, I sit down and write whenever and wherever I can, as long as I have the space and time to concentrate.

And now, I recommend visiting the websites of these fine writers who have joined us in the Blog Hop:

Grace Peterson is an author, garden columnist and blogger. Depending on the weather she can be found either pecking on her laptop or puttering in her garden. Her blog can be found at www.gracepete.com

Jo Robinson is a South African writer. In her book, African Me and Satellite TV, a woman living in modern Zimbabwe has managed to escape reality for years, until she takes in an elderly domestic worker and begins a journey into the turmoil outside her door and within her own life. Jo also writes short stories, science fiction and fantasy. Her blog on “My Writing Process” starts March 3: http://africolonialstories.wordpress.com/

MaryLee MacDonald is unable to join the Blog Tour since she is working on her new novel. She is a prolific writer of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. Her book, Montpelier Tomorrow, is forthcoming from All Things That Matter Press. Please visit her Author’s Guild website: http://www.maryleemacdonald.us/.