Friday, April 3, 2009

Moving on to Florida

A lot of old Vermonters end up living in Florida. This is connected to realizing, at some point, that it’s possible to be warm during the months extending from October through March - to be really warm - to lounge about the house in a t-shirt eating ice cream in February.

When I was a kid I totally accepted being cold six months out of every year because I didn’t realize there was any alternative. I grew up in a brick house built before the Civil War. It had no central heating. There were many such houses in Vermont in those days. Each house had a designated ‘warm room’ where you could go down a layer or two (we routinely wore coats, wool hats, mufflers and mittens as indoor apparel) and lounge about having a cup of cocoa and listening to the radio. Being in any other room of the house meant working nonstop - sweeping and scrubbing with the dogged fervor of a chain gang at rifle point. To stop working was to freeze.

Vermont kids were expected to be tough. We never had a snow day except once when snow reached the sills of second-story windows. If the school furnace broke down, we sat at our little desks, suited up, trying to operate a pencil while wearing mittens. You could see your breath in the air. The boys in the back row - the class thugs - would bring two fingers up to their mouths and breathe out, so it would look like they were smoking.

The moment a Vermonter finds out about being warm is kind of like the moment Adam and Eve shared the apple. The gates of paradise swing shut and you find yourself in Florida. There are worse fates.

Southern Poetry
is sold
from backs of pickup trucks
on country roads.
Hand-lettered signs for miles say

Big Time Florida Saturday Night

The Korean store on the corner
sells gold hoop earrings,
barbecue sauce, ice cream,
six-packs of cold beer
sweating silver rivers of promise.
Cain and Abel cruise Magnolia Street
tires squeal,
short red dresses,
high-heeled golden slippers
dance across moon-shadowed
neon pavement waving tickets saved
since the Garden of Eden.
Mother Eve’s Dance Hall opens.
Duenna Live Oak fastens moonbeams
to her shawl,
hangs shaggy veils of spanish moss
across her gnarled eyes
not to see the scandalous carrying on,
hands clasped to warm ripe bottoms,
nibbling cinnamon ear lobes.
She hears
car radios clawing gardenia-scented air
with saxophones,
Big time Florida Saturday night.

Pleasant Street Neighborhood

Hot purple music,
Cajun-style despair,
Jesus ecstasies...
Bubba & Laverne’s Grocerette
boarded up...
shambling crackhouse...
Old woman growing petunias
in a washtub next door
wears a headrag,
praises Him
her hidden treasure,
her crown of glory...
The peanut man on his three-wheel bike,
head misshapen like a sideways goober,
Big Smile,
collecting cans
in a rusty basket...
Crack addicts wandering dazed circles
before the God by Faith Mission,
worn out from a night of
hustling money,
hustling rocks,
can’t sleep...
Smell of ribs from Mom’s Kitchen...
Men in three-piece suits whispering
in front of Dorsey’s Funeral Parlor,
here where the dead roam with the homeboys
through spanish moss and live oak streets
while an old man boils shrimp in a barrel
under the sweet Southern sun.

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