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Notes from the Florida Gulf
by Mary Jo Balistreri


Like an open book abandoned on the beach,
the bivalve catches my attention. I pick up
this pen shell, and the story begins—
a bad storm at sea, molusk legs severed
from sediment, nothing left but a shell
bouncing from wave to wave, washed
up on shore, scared like an Old Salt.
Furrowed with ridges, barnacles
like cancerous growths, the gift
is inside the covers. Mother of Pearl
iridesces in my hand


On my morning walk, I stop to watch
a cardinal kiss his image
in a large convex mirror. Entranced
by brilliance, he woos himself
from all directions. He waits. Flies
away, comes back. How could there
be no response to his amorous attention?
He leaves in a flurry of feathers.


I sit on the bank of the estuary
and watch an alligator ferry ten
babies. They lie across the scaled tail
like newborns in an incubator. The sun
lamp warms them. Later, a near-blind
pelican sees a meal where 6 more babies
lie. His attempted coup is interrupted
by a charging Mother. Feathers fly,
the babies are tipped into the water.
They are safe, the pelican barely
alive. From the opposite bank, a heron
backs up, remains absolutely still.
The babies climb back. The others
cling to her side. Mother is all eyes;
peace restored to the nursery—for now.


In another estuary, thirty-two shorebirds
gather together in the cold. Pelicans,
great white egrets, herons, wood storks,
and one roseate spoonbill. Small birds
chirp inside the wicker baskets
of mangroves, woven in their tangled growth
like the Indian ware displayed in galleries.
Only these baskets sprout miniature trees,
lush green islands of shelter, perches
for viewing, and duck blinds for alligators.


For two days, I look for the roseate spoonbill,
the only one left out of three. Did the other two
die from the cold? Were they an alligator’s delight?
I search all the waterways I know, but no bird.
Today just after dawn, I see
a pink reflection in the water and I think
sun, but instead am surprised by the spoonbill.
I sit on the bank and watch. A wood stork trundles over.
Five great white egrets fly in from the mangroves.
Only the click of cameras is heard.


After the storm with wind still lashing
the waves, hundreds of whelks rise at low tide.
Hundreds. I sit at a distance but close
enough to observe from a beach chair. One by one
they emerge from the sand, miniature ziggurats,
sharp spikes and tips to greet the morning.


Nothing moves at dawn, the sky opalesce.
Two pelicans stand on tussoks in the mud flats.
They can hardly flap their feathers, can no longer
dive for fish. They come here from the gulf
as a human comes from home to a hospice.
Their final resting place near the greening
and quiet streams.


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