—after Elizabeth Bishop
On their green svelte shoots, leaves split in three places.
They are ecclesiastical, like papal crosses, or no,
they are subversive, leaves bend, arms akimbo.
Below, the roots spread like fingers filling spaces
between stones in a clay pot, earth-rammed and red.
The water is sweetwater, a silt and salt ambrosial confection,
but only in the swamp do mangroves clamber in every direction,
like cowboys casting their shadows, tall and bandy-legged.
They are found here in the wrack lines of sea grass,
along with the dunnage of Spanish galleons, derelicts
of Cuban balseros, and plastic baby doll heads.
They reek of quayside wineshops, of inebriated men galvanized
by loops of the Outer Sea or the loamy scent of war paint.
Mangroves know the mosquito’s hum, the woodstork’s stealthy step,
bivalves scraping on limestone—broken teeth of a buried alphabet.
They know the lost Muskogee. Sound too is a pictograph.
Understanding the unstated theme of receiving,
they don’t bend when rain spills like rice from a burlap sack.
Mangroves keep the 10,000 Islands from floating away,
mooring down hammocks of cabbage palm and oak.
They remember what history has forgotten: the smoke,
the skeleton in the burial mound, the weight of clay
beads still around the neck, knees curled into the chest—
position of unbirth and oblivion. They remember turtles
as mossy carapaces slipping torqued roots. Moribund and fertile,
they can’t forget. The river of grass never rests.