Insect Life of Florida
by Lynda Hull
In those days I thought their endless thrum
was the great wheel that turned the days, the nights.
In the throats of hibiscus and oleander
I’d see them clustered yellow, blue, their shells
enameled hard as the sky before the rain.
All that summer, my second, from city
to city my young father drove the black coupe
through humid mornings I’d wake to like fever
parceled between luggage and sample goods.
Afternoons, showers drummed the roof,
my parents silent for hours. Even then I knew
something of love was cruel, was distant.
Mother leaned over the seat to me, the orchid
Father’d pinned in her hair shriveled
to a purple fist. A necklace of shells
coiled her throat, moving a little as she
murmured of alligators that float the rivers
able to swallow a child whole, of mosquitoes
whose bite would make you sleep a thousand years.
And always the trance of blacktop shimmering
through swamps with names like incantations—
Okeefenokee, where Father held my hand
and pointed to an egret’s flight unfolding
white above swamp reeds that sang with insects
until I was lost, until I was part
of the singing, their thousand wings gauze
on my body, tattooing my skin.
Father rocked me later by the water,
the motel balcony, singing calypso
with the Jamaican radio. The lyrics
a net over the sea, its lesson
of desire and repetition. Lizards flashed
over his shoes, over the rail
where the citronella burned merging our
shadows—Father’s face floating over mine
in the black changing sound
of night, the enormous Florida night,
metallic with cicadas, musical
and dangerous as the human heart.
PHOTO: Egrets in the Okefenokee Swamp, Florida. Photo by Jaimie Tuchman, used by permission.
NOTE: The Okefenokee Swamp is a shallow, 438,000-acre peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia-Florida line in the United States. A majority of the swamp is protected by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Okefenokee Wilderness. Considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia, the Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America. The swamp, which was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, is home to many wading birds, including herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns. Okefenokee is famous for its amphibians and reptiles such as toads, frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes, and an abundance of American alligators.
PHOTO: American Alligator on the banks of the Suwannee River in the Okefenokee Swamp Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. Photo by Brian Lasenby, used by permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynda Hull was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1954. Her collections include Ghost Money (1986), recipient of the Juniper Prize; Star Ledger (1991), which won the 1991 Carl Sandburg and 1990 Edwin Ford Piper awards; and The Only World: Poems, published posthumously in 1995 and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. In 2006, Graywolf Press published her Collected Poems, edited by her husband, David Wojahn. Hull was the recipient of four Pushcart Prizes as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council. In addition to serving as the poetry editor for the journal Crazyhorse, she taught English at Indiana University, DePaul University, and Vermont College. In 1994, she died at age 49 in a car accident.
Author photo by Michael Twombley