Monday, September 04, 2017

`With Stillness Stashed Inside Its Eye'

Two of our finest recent poets, Donald Justice and Eric Ormsby, were Floridians by birth or early residency. Justice was born in Miami in 1925, and the city – hardly the flashy tourist destination we know today -- figures frequently in his work. Born in Georgia in 1941, Ormsby grew up in Coral Gables, near Miami, in his grandmother’s house. Justice would have been too young to have memories of the September 1926 hurricane that devastated Miami. He is seldom a documentarian. He traces inner weather events, and is a poet of memory and nostalgia. In “Childhood” (Collected Poems, 2004) he recalls a long-vanished Miami:

“And sometimes,
Where the city halts, the cracked sidewalks
Lead to a coral archway still spanning
The entrance to some wilderness of palmetto—

“Forlorn suburbs, but with golden names!”

Except for the coral, it might be a scene in Houston. Our backyard, no wilderness, is thick in one corner with palmetto. I find no overt references to hurricanes in Justice’s poems. Typically, he comes closest in “Memory of a Porch”:

“A rumor of storms
Dying out over
Some dark Atlantic.”

Justice’s verse is more attuned to such rumors – hints, intuitions, dreams -- than to a journalistic chronicle. Much of Ormsby’s second collection, Coastlines (1992), is devoted to memories of a happy childhood spent on the Florida coast. He renders memory with vivid detail and is more bluntly autobiographical, as in “Florida Bay” (Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems, 2007), where a hurricane shows up in the fifth stanza:

“And desolation will always be those warm
Miami afternoons when August rain
Accumulated in the distance, before the storm
Amassed and broke, and plump drops lashed
The tattered fronds outside, or hurricane
Roared from Tortugas north with stillness stashed
Inside its eye, and we waited for the wind
To flay the stucco and leave the banyan skinned.”

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