Princeton, opening in far-south Dade County between the wedge of I-95 and Dixie Highway, bore
flats of slash pines with loose-chunked bark and tops too high for shade, and under their topple
Florida holly peppered green with shots of red. Johnson grass held sun, sowed savannah colors,
obscured itself in rustle; around the ferns hammock plants mingled—strangler figs’ muscle
split into finger-coating papaya scent peeling gumbo-limbo’s burn, mahogany squatted beside with
woody petals of pod.
We searched for the few grapes (for arbors, for swooning under like swooning ladies), we coveted
the hotpink rosary peas we knew would kill at our tongue on their scarab backs, we dared each other
to pick them, we wiped our hands on silver saw palmetto blades—thick dusty-green fans on their
thick bodies, fans that thwacked when we waved them, against themselves like sails, in wind, and
around us the crows, and the whippoorwill that years later we found, remember we found out, was
not a whippoorwill but a burrowing owl scouting the land that our parents didn’t touch, that stayed
like a pebble in a pocket still in Florida’s growth—still for the owl and tree frogs, for the cats from
up the road at the shelter (or from near it, dropped at the skidding curve on two-thirty-second off
Allapattah)—for those cats and bufo toads and rattlesnakes and the dogs who tried to eat them and
then lay belly-up in the road—and then soon we’d have Gypsy 2, or Snail 2 (daughter of the matron
Bran, Snail 1 was wheat-colored, large and horse-built, but lean, and we called her Snail, because she
quick-skittered all over the place; when we patted her side she and her namesakes heaved and
taildown ran into the Florida holly, hiding there for days, shivering, especially in summer—especially
in summer when afternoons took in blooms of steel, ate them and them out on sky, thunder’s
bellied hum, she shivered afraid, in the ferns under the switching twigs of false holly, of the lightning
that came close, the lightning that kept us loping in the gray-green light, in the drops that made
everything smell like muscling-up).
In Princeton a chalky red pickup rusted on the patch where the cars were parked, by the limestone-
pitted dirt road, the fence graying, the arbor sometimes flushed with bougainvillea.
We walked along the edges of the pickup bed to avoid the alligators in the center, we were tipping
and taunting and finally falling into the bed and scrambling, forgetting there were alligators when we
found the sun-rotted tarps, took them to the porch; the porch was Sahara sand-papered (hurricanes
took the sand, took it from Africa, whipped and scoured the wood), and the poor man’s orchid
shaded us with shoulders the size of mothers’ arms, its leaves so silvery underneath, its tongued-
With cinder blocks and tarp we made pools filled with metallic hose water; we floated the leaves,
waved them through water’s wind until the weave gave out and the water seeped down through
limestone to the glinting-dark aquifer beneath, and sometimes in the winter robins massed the road
until our parents could barely drive. The robins were red and they crowded, moving through in a
few days; I can’t remember if they sang.
Later we didn’t open to them, and it was hard for me to talk, and I couldn’t explain; later you left
and the flatwood locusts shed sound into me (later, in another story, the cypress house burned, the
woods retreated, the land smacked with concrete, but we were both already gone, fled up the
peninsula, up the long coast).