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Part fable, part diatribe, part elegy, part love song, this extraordinary fifth collection by Campbell McGrath makes poetry of the most unlikely of materials — his home state of Florida. While at times poignantly personal, McGrath also returns for the first time to the characteristically comic and visionary public voice displayed in the renowned "Bob Hope Poem." Moving effortlessly from prehistory to the space age, he catalogues Florida's natural wonders and historical figureheads, from Ponce de León to Walt ...
Part fable, part diatribe, part elegy, part love song, this extraordinary fifth collection by Campbell McGrath makes poetry of the most unlikely of materials — his home state of Florida. While at times poignantly personal, McGrath also returns for the first time to the characteristically comic and visionary public voice displayed in the renowned "Bob Hope Poem." Moving effortlessly from prehistory to the space age, he catalogues Florida's natural wonders and historical figureheads, from Ponce de León to Walt Disney, William Bartram to Chuck E. Cheese — "the bewhiskered Mephistopheles of ring toss,/the diabolical vampire of our transcendent ideals." In the brilliant sociohistorical monologue of "The Florida Poem," McGrath employs the Fountain of Youth as a mythic symbol for both the tragic consequences of a society built on greed and cultural erasure and the diverse human potential, "which must become the fountain/for any communal future we might dare imagine."
Place-bound and tightly focused, Campbell McGrath's message is nonetheless universal, as his penetrating vision of Florida is also a vision of America — its history and hopes, failings and fulfillments, and the eternal force that transcends it all.
A City in the Clouds
1. The First Days
Nobody knew how the alligators had come to live in the
but there they were, brutishly snarling and snapping
around the feet of the first, courageous citizens to
at which point it was too late to do anything but smile
and learn to live with them, small concern at a moment
of such significance, in a world of such size and wonderment,
and anyway the alligators felt no urging toward
and soon migrated spraddle-legged and bellowing
to the far outlying cloudlands and were seldom seen again
for many years, and anyway it was all smiles, or mostly,
in those first, halcyon, most splendid of days.
It was a time of solidarity and joy, a golden age
of amazement at their audacity and luck
when the tasks of managing a new life in the stratosphere
were mastered with harmonic grace and wisdom,
serenity absorbed by nimbus of star-fall or moon-rise
to gild them as obelisks on a miraculous plateau
and cast their shadows as laughing masks
against the corrugated damask of that realm.
Great works were undertaken: the drafting of laws,
the balancing of rights and obligations. Fields were planted.
The water-harvesting machinery was assembled
and turned on; cisterns and storage ponds filled slowly
but inexorably with unrained water, liquid measure
of the blessings of present fortune and future promise.
Communal edifices were surveyed and dedicated,
lyceum and civic center, an amphitheater for town
Flexible dwellings of thatchand mesh were woven,
simple but sturdy, in accordance with their needs,
terraces and plazas, spires and cupolas and palisades,
orchid gardens with rain-fountains hewn from the living
and cantilevered footpaths cast in gulf-straddling arcs
to accommodate the magisterial vista of the world below
and the spidering industry of construction above as
day after day, week after week, a city arose in the sky.
|A City in the Clouds||3|
|The First Days||3|
|The Shapes and the Lines||7|
|The Fruits of the Earth||9|
|The Last Days||25|
|The Key Lime||34|
|Because This Is Florida||35|
|William Bartram Beset by Crocodiles or Alligators||36|
|Edison in Fort Myers, 1885||43|
|Benediction for the Savior of Orlando||47|
|The Strangler Fig||51|
|The Florida Anasazi||52|
|Mile Marker 73, Lower Matecumbe Key||53|
|Seashells, Manasota Key||54|
|Hemingway Dines on Boiled Shrimp and Beer||56|
|Elizabeth Bishop in the House on White Street||57|
|Maizel at Shorty's in Kendall||59|
|Trouble with Miami||63|
|At the Royal Palm Barbershop||64|
|The Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial||67|
|Late February, Miami Beach||71|
|The Zebra Longwing||72|
|The Florida Poem||79|