Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Length of Never

How did the meadowlarks in Wichita
remain invisible for over two years?
Virgil showed up in the fourth grade
with five baby rabbits crammed into
a tan briefcase. Two died before lunch
recess, one squashed at playground’s
edge when it took a wrong turn—Kevin
stepped on it—and two dissolved into
the wheat field from which they were
plucked in the first place. Nature seemed
bountiful that day. The walk home tripled
in length as I searched for a yellow breast
with the black V. My disappointment
quadrupled before supper. Our class
toured a grain elevator the next day.
I watched the wheat-dotted blacktop
fill with sparrows as my voice spilled
a current of nevers on the man with
the face like a dry riverbed. His voice
was smoke and gravel, “Never means
something will not happen, forever.
You should not say that.” 

Out of the sun dropped a place named
Vietnam, then we moved to Ohio,
land of cardinals. Red spots dotted
the trees and bushes. Shrewd crows
attacked row after row of my uncle’s corn.
Guns were useless. Killdeers faked
broken wings, lured us into hope
and away from their nests. Ground-hogs
burrowed under tillable soil, escaping
from one hole as we dug at another. Still,
the sparrows were everywhere. We shot
them with BB guns, for a man hidden
underneath a John Deere hat. He hated
hordes, demanded that we line bodies up
for the count. As dust and slivers of husks
floated on his coffee he paid us for the
deaths, talked about the war and how
we would never lose. My voice was oak
and mint. “Never means something
will not happen forever. You should
not say that.” 

I was in Colorado recently and saw one,
a meadowlark. I know now of intentions
and accidents,  of dark skies and unstable
ground, of red spots and guns, of dropped
grain that doesn’t matter, of wars and when
to dump coffee. I know now that never
is a million sparrows later.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Near the Shrimp Docks

I can tell you, truthfully…Scout’s Honor,  Honest to God, Cross My Heart (the whole stick the needle in my eye ordeal)…that I rarely know where I will find myself when it comes to taking photos. I am a dust devil, a willy-nilly traveler to places that happen upon me, a ramblin’ fool with a camera. If  no schedule  dictates my time, I will stop at anything that screams to the corner of my eye, as did the grassy parking area at the south end of the 22nd Street bridge, near the Shrimp Docks. On the south side is an old freighter, the Peggy Palmer, resting in a velvet of rust and barnacles, in what looks to be shallow water. 

To the north is a small backbay. The bridge, in each direction, is three lanes and is lifted by a series of concrete columns, looking like square fingers rising from the water, blackened by the salty environment, humidity and age. The concrete surface has the southern, sooty charm look.  This spot called to me, like the Sirens called to Odysseus and his crew, but I did not plug my ears, I went to find them.

After creeping down a steep grassy embankment, jumping off a seawall and tiptoeing through low tide muck, I encountered a culture that was new to me. I will, from this point, forever refer to them as the fishing people. I found, beneath the bridges, under the rumble of the tanker trucks and other traffic above, in the glow and smoke of small fires, a gathering of gypsies, of sort. Lester and Azalea, Pooch and Wanda, Hector and Enny and their Chihuahua. Bodacious, along with many others were there, just as they are often there, out of the mainstream of this town. 

They come to fish, catch and cook, some out of love of the sport, some because it provides a necessary meal. These folks are not homeless, however, there are homeless people there. The homeless do not give their names, only greetings and nods. They come for the fish, because it is readily shared, even though they have nothing to offer in return. I am a stranger with a camera who, out of courtesy, snaps only shots that are not personal, and I am offered a roasted ear of corn, a thick, sizzling slice of sheepshead and a cold beer. I thank the group, tell them I just ate, but maybe next time.

This spot is also about relaxing, enjoying the sunset as it paints the skyline and watching the seabirds pick an evening roost. It is about joking, as one woman tells her husband to go rinse his legs in the water, get off the black muck with its strong decay and mineral odor. He laughs and says, “But baby, rich people pay at a spa to smear this stuff on!”  Then, everyone laughs when the wife responds, “Yeah, well you ain’t rich enough to smell that bad.” There is low talk about politics and benefits and the weather, resulting in heads shaking and nodding and an occasional “Amen.” So it continues until Lester and Azalea stand up and start gathering their gear. Others do the same. There are farewells and hugs and handshakes and “see you tomorrow” calls. There is a dousing of the flames and a slow exit, which does not seem so much slow because people are old and tired as it seems they hate to have to go. I know the feeling.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Where The Creatures Fly

I have recently been to Itawallasassa, also known as The Place Where The Creatures Fly. A spot that is a depression in the earth’s surface, placing it closer to Hell, it has the presence of being more remote rather than rural. There is a brutal nature to its nature. One must slice through the heat and humidity, the sandy ground like molten iron, the sun like welding arc. Water evaporates as sweat soon after it is swallowed. It seems, after only a few minutes, that most bodies would not have the strength to carry enough water to travel boundary to boundary, whether north to south, or east to west. This is not fact, but the compression from the dense air makes a person think that, so, you only walk a distance that, in your mind, you know will allow for safe return.  A nervousness and fear keep you glancing back, as though you are tethered to the entry point.

Entry is through a dense thicket of palmetto, vine and briar. Because of the climate extreme, there are few mammals living in the place, however, they do come for a drink of the stale, black water from the long pond. The pond is narrow, maybe fifty feet, but nearly a quarter mile long. There are reptiles in the brush and along the ground; they are forever alert and wait for the mammals to arrive. The chalky bones of the unfortunate are liberally scattered. Those are the issues of small life at Itawallasassa, Smaller yet are the creatures that fly, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, bees and numerous other varieties of insects. The plants and air are flush with such life. It is for that reason I go there.  

There is little tolerance for visitors and there is evidence of this at the entry, which always has a display of warnings or omens. On each of my visits I have had to contend with distinct, mostly frightening and intimidating, effects. I do not know the meaning or significance, whether cultural or religious, of any of the items, but I am aware of the purpose. I do not know who places the ominous symbols and devices near the entry. I have never met anyone within the boundaries, whether visitor or inhabitant.

On this visit I made my way through the thick, scratching brush and bramble, only to happen upon a shark carcass hanging from a tree. There were also various parts of the shark’s body impaled on sticks. The odor of decay was forceful, invasive, and I had no choice byt to lift the neck opening of my shirt over my mouth and nose. It was of little help to do so. To the left of the shark was a small pepper tree and on it hung three necklaces fashioned of thin root, adorned by a small crab claw. I have found necklaces there before and surmised that they were to be worn while in the place. I was not certain of that, the first time there, but my senses told me I would have safe passage, if I was wearing one. So, I did and I do.

I take my first drinks after about a hundred yards, my clothing already drenched with sweat, to the point I could wring out the moisture. There is no sound. No breeze, no lapping water, no dead leaves or brush to crackle beneath a foot or paw or claw. There is only labored breathing and heartbeat from within myself and the buzz, hum and thrum of flying creatures. Some seem curious, others have the edginess that has kept them alive. I constantly whirl and turn, shuffle through the growth to shoot my photos, stopping often to wipe the stinging sweat from my eyes. Without awareness I travel to where the trail narrows to footpath width and the entry has disappeared. It is easy to return, to follow my marks in the sand, but it is the unknown of what is ahead that forces a decision. I have the necklace, I have my water, I have my camera, I have my curiosity, the only question is whether I have my courage. The sun is centered, the shadows short, the flying creatures beckon from the narrowing path ahead.