A Fabled Magnificence: Old Europe in the Mangroves
By Michael Hettich
The strangeness of the landscape, like a new kind of window
for the lonely man from Chicago, who hated
heat, and sweat, and bright sun, but loved
the dream of old Europe, cherubs, expensive
delicate ships, like the caravel that hangs
from the ceiling of the loggia, looking out at a stone ship
that looks out across the bay teeming with crocodiles
and crabs, mosquitoes by the billions—
HOUSE HERE WITHOUT MOSQUITO SCREENS
UNTHINKABLE IN SUMMER UNCOMFORTABLE ALWAYS
IN WINTER UNBEARABLE AT TIMES WORSE
IF POSSIBLE FROM FLIES
VERY BAD NOW
Heavy-handed paintings of the European past
in a house built to mimic the European past—
as if the family had lived here for centuries–
in these raw subtropics, where just up to road
Ralph Munroe’s Barnacle caught breezes off the bay
where freshwater springs bubbled up into the salt
and white birds were hunted for their plumes
at Vizcaya the baths ran both salt and fresh water
and a secret door leads to a room-sized painting
of shipwrecks and wilderness—conjuring a mood
more important than showing the real world—seahorse
weathervanes, drapery and chandeliers.
can I see this place in a sympathetic light,
this rich man’s indulgence in retrograde taste
at a time when the whole world was being so vividly
re-imagined—Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce
to say nothing of the Great War—
Where are we when we’re here?
Coral stone walls
beside a lagoon—
bottle caps and rose petals
strewn on the stairs
and the climate takes it all, as the rising seas
will soon take it all: a hurricane stink
by the mangroves, beyond which the wedding parties sweat
and smile like ads for their portraits.
Indigo snakes. Butterflies.
dogs, monkeys, spiders and iguanas
Tree snails. Migrating birds by the millions:
Snow geese, peregrine falcons, mangrove
cuckoos, yellow-billed cuckoos, yellow-bellied
sapsuckers, sparrows, warblers, wrens
shrikes, terns grebes, orchard
orioles, wigeons, hummingbirds, ibises
herons, egrets flamingos—
and sandpipers, mocking birds, mourning doves, and crows–
hawks and pelicans, roseate spoonbills,
huge white pelicans floating just offshore
A stunning swimming pool no one ever swam in.
Ceilings as impressive as any in the world,
the idea of elegance as a kind of looking backward.
an environment suggestive of a dream.
A mangrove forest teeming with spawn
in its dappled dusk light. Manatees and dolphins.
Aligator bellowing punctuates the nights.
The subtropic lushness:
a pelt of sweaty perfume:
Gardens for flowers unsuited to the climate
A pretty little room for arranging bouquets.
Workers with their shirts off
melting in the weighted sun.
Hurricanes poised at the horizon. Great
thunderstorms every summer afternoon.
To create the past in a brand-new city.
A frigate bird circles
toward the vultures overhead
as an osprey whistles
from a slash pine, then leaps
out, leaps out into unencumbered air—
Michael Hettich has published over a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently Systems of Vanishing (2014), The Animals Beyond Us (2011) and Like Happiness (2010). A new book, The Frozen Harbor, was published this past summer. His work has appeared in such journals as Orion, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly and Poetry East. He has collaborated widely with visual artists, musicians and fellow writers. Systems of Vanishing won the 2014 Tampa Review Prize and The Frozen Harbor won the David Martinson/Meadowhawk Prize. Hettich has also been awarded three Individual Artist Fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.