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.
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: