She said, Snowbird, if nothing else, learn something from the past. Consider Ponce de León, seeking the Fountain of Youth. He was sure he knew where it was. So he got himself a commission from the Spanish crown: colonize the “isle of Florida.” In the hurricane month of July in the year 1521 he was mortally wounded—struck by an arrow shot from the bow of a native of the isle that was not an isle. And so he is remembered. If nothing else. (Robert Kroetsch, The Snowbird Poems)
By the time you are reading this, we are already home. And yet, I am days behind you. On Wednesday afternoon, Christine and I flew down to Boca Raton, Florida for a longish weekend at her father’s condo, returning to Ottawa late last night. Might the snowstorm impede our return? Might we even be trapped here? Warm in this American south, even muggy. Strange to hear reports of the snowstorms back home, so very distant from where we were. Where we are. In what tense should I be writing this?
Boca Raton, about twenty minutes north of Fort Lauderdale, where we landed. Where Mark Scroggins said one comes only to age, and to die. Perhaps so. Where the brilliant Caddyshack (1980) and unfortunate Caddyshack II (1988) were filmed; less than a mile away from where we’re staying, I think. So very far away from St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. Flying down, I had a number of songs in my head, including “St. Augustine” by Band of Horses, “America” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “Miami” by U2.
Of course I brought Robert Kroetsch along with me. How could I not? Snowbird.
Thursday, February 7: We spent part of Thursday at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Not a large exhibition space, and yet, roughly the same admission as The Louvre. Hmmmmm. The building and grounds are absolutely stunning, and every corner has apparently been built with donated money. There are more names than the phone book, it might seem. Perhaps the difference between countries, that much of our public galleries are funded with public money, and all the money here is private. We are not allowed to take photographs inside the museum, or in the sculpture garden. We wandered into a show of fifty years of American fashion designers that I thought rather interesting, but what really appealed were the other works: they have the Mohammad Ali quartet by Andy Warhol, and some interesting pieces by Al Held, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Rivers (a painter from numerous Frank O’Hara poems), Pablo Picasso, David Hockney (one of my favourites), Seurat, Mark Rothko, and a show of French drawings (many of which weren’t actually drawings). Have you heard of Canadian-born American impressionist Maurice Prendergast? I hadn’t. One of his pieces there had a distinct flavor of another Canadian painter from the same period: David Milne (another one of my favourites; I much prefer his work to the Group of Seven).
And then an afternoon at the beach. Christine searched for shells, and I sketched out notes and stared out over the water. We saw the remains of a Portugese Man-of-War on the beach, discovering later they’re poisonous. Quite poisonous, in fact. Still. The beach sand was incredibly clear, and clean. The water was shades of blue I’ve rarely seen.
I sketched out some poems. Bare sketches. Barely a series of notes. Where are the poems?
We could almost see all the way to Morocco. How far would that be from here?
Friday, February 8: Another morning at the beach, watching all the boats float by. Some floated rather quickly, and even the occasional helicopter. We watched the variety of blues in the water stretching out to near-infinity. We compiled a stockpile of shells, to see what was what. And what of these rumours of a massive snowstorm at home? I am having a hard time remembering what the word “snow” means. Or “cold.” Parts of my legs beginning to redden.
I sketched out some poems. Chicken scratch.
An hour or two until enough pairs of twentysomethings arrived that it began to get annoying. They posed for photos, and obsessed with their phones. Why bother coming out to the beach at all? To be seen, I suppose. And we were already starting to warm; we don’t want to spend our remaining time comparing burns. From there, we wandered to The Cheesecake Factory. How was I to know it wasn’t a restaurant made up on The Big Bang Theory? It’s not like we have any in Canada (that I’m aware of).
Cheesecake was had. We watched the multiple eyes of Sauron surrounding us. Creepy.
I asked the waitress if the factory element was truly all above board, or if it was, in fact, more of the Cheesecake Sweatshop variety. Like Wal-Mart, using illegal migrants. Shocking, I’d say. She said it wasn’t like that at all.
By 6pm, we were over at the home of Mark Scroggins and family for dinner, along with Catherine Daly. Relocated last year to Florida, Daly spent nearly two decades in California. Between the group of us, many books were exchanged. Of course, I gave them both boxes of chapbooks, and a couple trade titles as well, and we were able to leave with three of Daly’s eight poetry trade titles: Locket (Tupelo Press, 2005), Chanteuse (Factory School, 2007) and Vauxhall (Shearsman, 2008). I remember hearing good things about that third one, and am looking forward to going through all.
Although I was familiar with both of their names, we’d met neither of them, and knew very little. Apparently they were equally familiar with each other, having corresponded briefly, once, but not much more. Over the course of the evening, I discovered that poet and Florida University professor Scroggins is not only a Louis Zukofsky scholar, but the Louis Zukofsky scholar, author of a number of Zukofsky titles, including a critical biography a few years ago. He was good enough to gift a copy of Upper Limit Music: The Writing of Louis Zukofsky (University of Alabama Press, 1997) that he edited. We’d already exchanged a couple of books through the mail, but he also added his first poetry collection, anarchy (Spuyten Duyvil, 2003) to the more recent two I’d already received.
Although it was a bit unfortunate when Scroggins asked if we’d seen other Canadians while here. Snowbirds, he said. Haven’t you been tripping over other Canadians down here? We’ve become a damned cliché…
Saturday, February 9: We aimed for the beach, but didn’t quite make it. I wrote out unspecific directions to Boca Raton’s used bookstore, Bookware (which Mark Scroggins said was having a sale starting today), and managed to drive plenty north, before having to come all the way back down and discover it another way. We did discover it at least, and postcards and stamps next door, for the obligatory postcards to various parents, my lovely daughter, and our friend Carmel, who watches our apartment, our mail and our Lemonade while we are gone. Bookware, indeed, was having a magnificent sale: purchase any book for $10 or less and receive the next book you pick up for $10 or less free. Apparently they do this once a year, and are even planning on moving soon. One of the women there gave me a lengthy (more than required) tour, simply when I asked where the Poetry section was. Still, intrigued by the fact that their history books are organized by date of subject. Had we more time, I would have wanted to wander through there, to see where the history went. To see where this particular store considered American history to begin. They had about a dozen Canadian history books, including one on the prairies I actually own, and a book of Canadian letters compiled by Charlotte Grey. Neat.
[a photo of me working, in the little deck in the condo] Some of what I picked up included Things, Francis Ponge (Grossman Publishers, 1971), Tremble, C.D. Wright (The Ecco Press, 1996), American Linden, Mathew Zapruder (Tupelo Press, 2002), How Long, Ron Padgett (Coffee House Press, 2011), The Body, An Essay, Jenny Boully (Essay Press, 2002; 2007), Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, Volume 10 (Black Sparrow Press, 1996), Conjunctions: 35, “American Poetry: State of the Art” (2000) and various back issues of Granta I hadn’t seen previously. Christine picked up a number of items, including some books on bookbinding, printing and type (she remained in that section for some time, even after I left to purchase stamps). I was disappointed to not see a poetry section with more contemporary works (there are various works I haven’t seen, including earlier Cole Swensen titles, and tons of titles by Flood Editions, Apogee, University of California Press, etcetera), but a good haul, nonetheless. Might we be returning home with more than we brought? Possibly.
[Christine reading in the condo] Thrilled to find another collection by C.D.Wright. I’ve been taken with her work for some time.
Girl Friend poem #4
Together they marry the man
who will not wear gloves
In the morning they throw hair
from their brush out the window
Now the birds have enough for a nest
A lot is moving
in the frangible life of the soil
Amid the susurrus of grasses
one chair waits near another
The public is in ecstasy
And then a lunch at a locally famous diner she found on the internet, Super Dave’s Diner, “food for your soul.” We had a magnificent array of brisket and ribs and fried chicken and corn bread and collard greens. Wow. We ate, served by a young lady most likely Super Dave’s daughter (we could see him in the kitchen), all the while Gospel music floated out from the kitchen (they close early on Wednesdays for Bible study). Good for the soul, certainly. A tiny place, but even the man who came in behind us told the staff he was told he had to go there. We filled up. And immediately returned to the condo for a nap.
We aimed for the beach, but didn’t quite make it. There was even a festival today of some sort by the Art Gallery we went to on Thursday, but we didn’t make that either.
We aimed for the beach, but post-nap, made for the condo pool, instead. It was lovely.
Intrigued that Catherine Daly’s Vauxhall includes a sequence called “Canada Place,” with references abound, that include “Alberta Wheat Pool / Saskatchewan Wheat Pool / I wish to communicate with you […],” later writing:
objects over railing
leisurely and relaxed
“along the grease back groaning slip
the ferry glides then veers to buck
the gleaming midstream tidal rip
leaving the bobbing cans & ruck
of sawdust butts and flykissed slaughter
to nudge along the lip and wait
leaving red weeds awave in water
& a lost commuter purple, too late
toll tickets not liable for delays
accidental or otherwise
Intriguing. But for the misspelling of Earle Birney’s name. Who in America or England would even know?
Sunday, February 10: Our final day, making it down to the beach again first thing, but the rain and the wind prevented swimming. There was only surfing, and barely, badly. We sat for an hour-plus watching blustery waves, and remembering what we’d previously long forgot about the cold. Is this Florida, attempting to assist our Canadian winter re-entry later in the day? Is this Florida attempting to assist to acclimatize? Oh Florida, what have you done to us.
The beach was almost completely empty. Further south were the surfers. Everyone who came as we were there were long gone before we were. And only one boat in the distance, what could have been heavy rain. Was surprised to not see lightning through it.
Enough beach, we wandered to B.F. Chang’s and found original artwork by Bill Keane, two Family Circus panels by the washrooms. Odd. Somehow this simply confirms to me the great percentage of population in this region that is of senior age. Remember Seinfeld?
And then home to the pool (quickly) before condo, laundry, packing, sigh. Airport.
And what of the poems I’ve been sketching out? Nowhere near ready. I hope to dig into such once I hit home, back into my office.
I have no idea what Christine has been working on (although I know that she has). She keeps very quiet about such things.