Tropics N

O for a beaker full of the warm South.
                                                   John Keats


Just barely, I tell my brother.

He spends the winter in a white stucco house by a mangrove
swamp where it hardly ever rains.

My cracker house in a sea oaks grove five miles up the road,
five degrees cooler.

Rains here every afternoon.


Looked like a black garden hose snaking.

As I walked to the salt water pool in the morning through the
steamy jungle alone in my girlhood.

Sliding as if some thicketed gardener pulled a hose behind him
to water the dark.

Tropical smell of sweetness and decay.

When he told me he was going to make me feel good.

When he told me to lie down.

When he said to unbutton my blouse, slowly.

He said take it off.

When he said to slip the bra strap off my shoulder.

He said to slide my hand to my breast, let my hand push the
bra down below, touch my nipple.

Slip your bra strap off, touch the other nipple, put the phone
down, touch them both at once.

Hello! Hello! When he said could I hear him.

He said to pinch one, then the other.

He said to brush them both with my fingers at the same time.

Move your hands over your stomach, press down.

He said to play with my nipple with one hand, slide the other
hand up one thigh, lightly over the pubic hair, down the other

When he said to raise my knees.

When he said to put one finger in. Now two, three, your fist,
the phone receiver.


I was sitting on her belly.

I didn’t want to laugh but she looked so pretty, sun shining,
Daddy home from the war, war over.

She must have said something so funny.

Something about my stupid brothers. Her belly began to bounce
up and down, I had to even though I didn’t want to laugh.

I couldn’t even though I wanted to stay mad.

He wrote the General.

In fact I have been here three months, and in these three
months I have had no job that would occupy one full day’s

I suppose I will have to wait my turn after redeployment,
until others of longer service here are returned.

Meantime, perhaps you will give me the encouragement of your
counsel, and even—somehow, sometime—help me to get home.

He tells him how much he misses his family.

Names names, my one brother, my other brother, me.


So vast is the world, who can know, though you go to
the ends of the earth, you cannot.

Though you enter the walled city of your desire, you
will not.

The desert will not yield you fruit nor the pole the
rock of your stability.

Fire shall harden in your hands and the moist earth
evaporate in all the regions of your emptiness,


We always knew where we were. In the middle, in the
(humid) muddle, in the more or less.

Sun up through the east door facing the ocean, last rays
through the lakeside porch’s screen.

Hallway (halfway) where morning and evening met.

Light pouring in, pouring out, side to side through my
father’s mariachi martini cocktail shaker.

Swizzle stick, newel post, axis of all that mattered.


The paper’s not white, what it says doesn’t have to be

This truth holds also for tablecloths.


My father chased fire engines till he chased one home.

This is what is known as cause and effect.

Guilt is everywhere.


In from the ocean late afternoon, hot skin, cool tiles, dark

Water ran from the large-mouthed faucets, tub so big in the
big shingle house by the saltwater-smelling sea.

We floated.

Sand clung to the skin, chips of mica, sand in the hair, in
the nose, in the armpits, belly button, folds of the penis,
vagina, sand in the ears, under nails, in eyelashes.

Spray-crusted, sea-dunked, sun-crisp, happy as celery.


Mom, says my daughter, I want to go to the beach.

But don’t you have an exam tomorrow? Don’t you think you
should study? Won’t you feel guilty?

Yes, but I can handle it.


We played Doctor, like everybody else. We took turns. But
our favorite was the sheik because one of us had to win to be
chosen to spend the Arabian night with the other.

Me and my best friend on top of each other. Stroking each
other’s new breasts to the swell and the crest and the crash
of the mentoring waves.

Mapping the coastlines. Filling in the blanks.


In order to have a meaningful life or society, there must be:

First, a satisfactory metaphysics, a map of the way things are that is

Second, a telos, an end toward which life is moving, for which it exists.

Third, people must see themselves as having value, a positive, even a central role in unfolding history and the telos.

Fourth, based on metaphysics and telos and belief, people must be able to discover moral standards that further the good purposes and ends of society.

Fifth, there must be a sense of overall justice, completeness, closure, symmetry. Everything must fit coherently together.


Try it, two for two dollars, nothing ventured.

First ball goes in, piece o’ cake, miss the second. Rim shot.

He demonstrates. Here, try again. My ball stays in, on top
of his. He takes them both out.

Tell you what.

He’ll give me the flamingo free if I can get just one ball in,
that’s it.

But the price goes up to five bucks.

One goes in.

Rim shot, he says, shaking his head, take it over.

You know how I let you take the rim shot over when it bounced
back out, well, I’m going to let you take this one over too.

Suddenly, oh, he reminded me of my brothers.

That I wasn’t going to win that stupid flamingo.


On the other hand.

Traffic jam poems, the spirit moves nevertheless cosmic poems,
smog poems, muscle poems, sprocket poems, sprawl poems, ocean
desert mountain coastline helicopter poems.

Palm tree poems, 80°(F) and rising poems, peeling poems, beyond
the ocean lies the Orient poems, westward ho poems, northwest
passage poems, standing at the ends of the earth wonder poems.

Brave poems, loud poems, black tights and leotards, ballet
slipper poems, beginning over again at my age footloose poems,
barefoot poems, long beach poems, seagull with sun on its
white wings backlit poems, visiting my grown-up daughter
pacific poems, freedom poems, love poems, songs I’ve wanted to
sing my whole life.


Certain maps present California as an island.


They ate the olives. They wore print dresses with
square necks, short-capped sleeves, pearl chokers,
red lipstick, red nail polish, hair pulled back in a
—it was called a snood.

They leaned across, the army wives, intimate in

Their fathers and husbands drank martinis, an
acquired taste.
They acquired it.

Red-tipped cigarettes extended, flattering their
lovely hands, their lifted chins.

The home front was so damn much fun.


I can still smell the starched, pink polished cotton.

The heady, sweet swoon of orange blossoms.

We had our picture taken. Mary janes and ankle socks.
Pigtails with fat pink ribbons.

Nana waited lunch.

We sat on the west porch looking at the lake.

The boys got to go outside to play pirates.

The women smoothed their minute-hand watches. They ticked and

By the time he arrived, she was blaming the war on him.

Welcome home, welcome home. Daddy, Angel, Daddy!


In some places only six miles down, molten hot stuff, magma.


Also if they’re tied to their mothers they can’t object if
you’re tied to yours.

We keep the same distance.


Nana took me to the unused room.

She showed me the cupboards, broken shells and halves of
buttons, shredded costumes, crumpled shoes, fishing and
butterfly nets, golden books.

The mildewy smell of not having been opened since.

Everything dark and sweet with unknowing.

She left me but it was not alone.

The world inside the world, the secret entrance.


It’s enough just to love a place. You don’t necessarily have
to know why.


Oh, sunshine hot as a man’s big hands (I thought).

Oh, air slow with orange blossoms and sweat!


Then I was sitting on her belly in the tropical sunshine
trying not to laugh and laughing.

The crabgrass bounced.

Whatever she was saying was showing me how.

She had her hands on my waist so I wouldn’t fall off.

He raised the camera. He was calling my name.



O for a beaker...Letters.

In order to have a meaningful...I am indebted to philosopher Louis Pojman for these ideas.


Laurel Blossom’s most recent book of poetry is Vanishing Point: New and Selected Poems (Ridgeway Press, 2004). Earlier books include The Papers Said, What’s Wrong, and Any Minute. Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies, and in national journals including Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and The Paris Review, among others. She has recently completed a book-length poem, Degrees of Latitude, exploring the geography of a woman’s life. She serves on the editorial board of Heliotrope: a journal of poetry. Blossom has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and Harris Manchester College, Oxford University, where she serves on the Board of Regents. She co-founded the esteemed writing residency and workshop program The Writers Community, and now serves as chair of the Writers Community Committee of the YMCA National Writer’s Voice. She recently moved to rural South Carolina.

I was at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 1989 when these poems were born; as a result of my fellowship at ACA, I began a daily journal, which I kept for two years thereafter. That was the beginning of the long and tortuous evolution in form and content of a book called Degrees of Latitude, of which these three poems form sections.

Then one day, a few years later, I turned 50. I gave myself an adventure, to prove I wasn’t going to die: I went to the North Pole! Standing on the vast ice stretching as far as the eye could see, I realized to my surprise that I had come to the top of the world not to defy death, but to find my life; not just to get to the ends of the earth, but to find my home. I was drawing a map of myself, my identity. I wanted to know where I ended and the world began. But more than that. I began to see myself as representative, as a kind of Everywoman, and my psyche as co-terminus with earth. Not that my circumstances (or Circumference, to invoke Emily Dickinson) are like another’s, necessarily, but that my longings, my losses, my language and its redemptions are.

So the map became a metaphor for exploration and the journey became an epic. A woman’s epic, in which travel is as much emotional as physical, the past is everpresent, and the quest is for a spiritual self at home in the world as it is.

The only direction to go from the North Pole is south; at the South Pole the only way is north again. The world and all that’s in it goes around. As the Queen (Mary of Scots) and then the poet (T.S. of Eliot) said, In my end is my beginning. Or, to quote myself at the end of Degrees of Latitude, “We have reached, at last, the starting point.”

Everyplace is the starting point. For some time in the process of working on Degrees of Latitude, I wanted the reader to be able to read the sections, if not the individual lines themselves, in any order, at will. In the end, that idea proved too chaotic; but I’ve tried to preserve a certain amount of randomness to the text, a kind of associational progression that mimics how the restless mind of this one representative woman works.


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