Monday, June 25, 2018
from the orchid thief | assembled poem
a tall guy, skinny as a stick,
pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome.
he is missing all his front teeth.
passions arrived unannounced and ended explosively, like car bombs
the posture of al dente spaghetti
the nervous intensity of someone who plays a lot of video games
the late-sleeping, heavy-smoking, junk-food-eating, law-bending type
folding virtue and criminality around profit
a shrewd bastard
"swamp" and "orchids" and "Seminoles" and "cloning" and "criminal" –
I arranged to go down to Naples to see if this ball of paper might bloom
New York, the dead center of winter.
In Naples it was warm and gummy.
a frayed Florida bungalow
"When it rains here, cars start to fly."
the creaking of wooden benches
the sound of some guy in the front row gunning his throat
the Fakahatchee Strand
the Big Cypress Swamp
Hollywood is the most urban of them all.
a beautiful spruced-up golf course
grass as green and flat as a bathmat
hedges precision-shaped and burnished
the whole thing as civilized as a tuxedo
LADIES! BEWARE OF THE GATORS ON THE GREENS!
Chief Billie, James E. Billie
"I'm really on the side of the plants.
I'm a shrewd bastard.
I could be a great criminal."
a talk show about how to keep pet snakes and iguanas happy
the turnoff for Alligator Alley
dreamy-sounding Florida towns like
Coconut Creek and
Laroche was encouraged by both the palm fronds and Chief Billie's panther
Sometimes I think I've figured out some order in the universe,
Then I find myself in Florida.
"I really have to watch myself
especially around plants."
tough, rubbery leaves and
long, loopy vines
enormous tropical trees
with pimply bark and flowers the color of bubble gum
Cryptanthus, a genus of Brazilian bromeliad
a spectacular six-foot-tall Anthuriaum vietchii with weird, corrugated leaves,
"a gorgeous, gorgeous son of a bitch"
spiral juniper bushes
teddy bear palms
spinach that grows on vines
African pumpkins that can be trained onto trellises
carrots that grow in pots
Chinese fuzzy gourds
yard-long green beans
pink Zairean hot peppers shaped like penises
"Screw wax myrtles!"
"Screw saw grass!"
Live wild or die.
a German shepherd dog with its tongue sticking out
a human nose
the kind of fancy shoes that a king might wear
"Orchids appeared to have been modelled in the wildest caprice."
One looks like a monkey.
One looks dead.
There are species that look like butterflies, bats, ladies' handbags, bees, swarms of bees, female wasps, clamshells, roots, camel hooves, squirrels, nuns dressed in their wimples, and drunken old men.
Some look like the results of an accident involving paint.
The genus Dracula is blackish-red and looks like a vampire bat.
The texture of human flesh.
Orchids grow slowly. They languish.
seeds blown from South America to Florida
will drop in swimming pools and barbecue pits
and on shuffleboard courts and gas stations,
on roofs of office buildings and on the driveways of fast-food restaurants,
and in hot sand on a beach and in your hair on a windy day,
swept away or stepped on or drowned without being felt or seen.
"They are hot and moist in operation,
under the dominion of Venus,
and provoke lust exceedingly."
the ghost orchid.
the Fakahatchee's ghost orchid,
looks like a ghost but has also been describes as
a bandy-legged dancer,
a white frog,
"They look like a man,
like a woman,
sometimes like an austere, sinister fighter,
sometimes like a clown who excites our laughter.
They represent the image of a lazy tortois,
a melancholy toad,
an agile, ever-chattering monkey."
"Should one be lucky enough to see a flower,
all else will seem eclipsed."
thirty thousand orchids belonging to a man in Palm Beach all died.
He began what his family called "a downhill slide."
He was arrested for attacking his father,,
then for firing a sixteen-gauge shotgun into a neighbor's house,
then for carrying a concealed knife,
"It was the death of his orchids. That’s where it all began."
Live wild or die.
drowned on a collecting expidition on the Orinoco River
fell to his death while hunting in Sierra Leone
lost while orchid hunting in Panama
died of dysentery in Bogota
murdered in Mexico, killed in Madagascar, shot dead in Rio Hacha.
died of fever in Ecuador, gunned down by locals in Brazil,
vanished without a trace in Asia
Live wild or die.
eaten by a tiger
drenched with oil and burned alive
vanished into thin air
walked for fourteen days through jungle mud and never was seen again
fever or accidents or malaria or foul play
trophies for headhunters
or prey for horrible creatures
flying yellow lizards
other orchid hunters
On my first walk in the swamp
I saw oaks and pines and cypress and pop ash and beauty-berry and elderberry and yellow-eyed grass and camphor weed
I saw strap lilies and water willows
and sumac and bladderwort,
and resurrection ferns springing out of a fallen dead tree
The Fakahatchee Strand
hot and wet and buggy
cottonmouth snakes and diamondback rattlers and alligators and snapping turtles andpoisonous plants and wild hogs and things that stick into you and on you and fly into your nose and eyes
bright red and green and shaped like fright wigs
some were spider-sized, some were as big as me
like a crowd of animals, watching everything that passed
heavy sweet smell
stillness and darkness and thickness
whatever isn't wet is blasted
a carpet of lubber grasshoppers so deep
the variety of squirrels
the number of charred Model T's
the crackling of the gravel paths
the mumbling of leaves in the wind, the squeak of doors
the abstract tropical animal sounds of ticking and cheeping and crying
like sounds inside a covered bowl
The light was flattening out
"The place looked wild and lonely.
About three o'clock it seemed to get on Henry's nerves
and we saw him crying,
he could not tell us why,
he was just plain scared."
The air has the slack, drapey weight of wet velvet
from The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orleans
which she expanded from her piece in the New Yorker entitled "Orchid Fever"
January 23, 1995