The Poetry of Mary K O'Melveny


Blackened palm trees, 

fronds sun shriveled,

rest in piles by the roadside. 

Tarred chunks of shack roofs 

and mottled screens peel away.

Persistent mold creeps  

up walls and down doorways,

greybrown stains widening

like long unwashed laundry.

Billboards beckon victims

of car crashes and work injuries

by 800 numbers involving words

like “pay” and “cash” and “win.”


We are driving from Florida’s center

to Palm Beach County.

The distance is Continental.

Limp Spanish moss dangles  

from tired trees.  Faded pink 

messages from Jesus adorn the walls 

of Pentecostal church fronts.   

Dirt roads curve away from the 

highway into swampy grasses, 

green washes down to primary yellow, 

then fades to beige.  A few black cows 

wander back and forth, 

gazing at lingering green patches

next to stillborn stripes of water.


As we travel in the early light, 

a shadow image emerges –

Water Buffalo in watery fields of rice

along Vietnam’s highways.  Adjacent 

dirt roads wind back to hidden wildness.  

Occasional Gospel messages animate 

modest pale buildings, abetted by tiny flags.  

The bright sounds of growth


emerge in every small village,

oddly configured new constructions

alight with the thrill of starting up. 

Factories sprang to life in the distance,

smoky chimneys cast a light fog

and promised ersatz goods.


Diners eager for pho and bánh mì

fill small plastic chairs and tables 

along roadsides and sidewalks,

then rested in rainbow hued hammocks

before boarding ubiquitous scooters. 

Markets are flush with photogenic kumquats,

dragon fruit, pomelo, tinsel mementoes.

A pulsing energy, alert and jazzed,

hovered over these farmlands and fields,

as if the ancestors who lie so quietly

in scattered funerary structures

have finally been tempted back to life 

by so many golden candy offerings.


These worn Florida highways 

offer no such luminosity.  

The mood is dark.

Rage simmers

like a moist August. 

Progress is not a likely entry

in these vocabularies.

No wonder they are plotting resistance,

digging tunnels in their minds 

against The Enemy.





Driving from Orlando to West Palm Beach









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