D.E. Steward

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Cayo Hueso                                       

Looking into the sunup’s glare across the salt pond between Government Road and Key West’s single runway

For a few seconds notice a surface swell from a large fast passage below

Thinking a manatee but too swift, and no access for porpoises, so it was a crocodile

Not a freshwater alligator, a saltwater crocodile

A rapid timeless haunt surging across the morning’s gleam

Two cormorants posted on the stubs around the salt pond and a palm warbler tail-flicking away from near the top of a head-high seven-year apple the only other life in view

Seen through shiny seven-year apple leaves

Screening the presence of an ultimate reptile

The Burmese pythons down from the Everglades haven’t yet made it to the Lower Keys

Shifting natural provinces everywhere 

Have spotted blue-winged teal in winter on this pond

A crocodile would take them from below

There is infrequent doom here now with the AIDS plague played out

Cayo Hueso

Bone Key as Elizabeth Bishop called it

Island benign, the damper stoppage of the surrounding sea, the end of the line     

A fully waxing gibbous moon passing the zenith through the delicate burgeoning leaves of the big Spanish lime over the cistern on Olivia

High two clear evenings in a row a couple of hours after dark

Anoncillo even limoncillo

“It is spring here now and the Royal Poinciana trees are in bloom, all along the streets – brilliant flame color or dark red. Also a large tree ­– Spanish lime? – that sheds… fine green powder… In the icy shadow of the lime-tree. Is the shadow of a large tree colder than the shadow of a small one?”  (Elizabeth Bishop)


A few dozen other emphatic particulars back behind

We ran the double-track four and three-quarter mile 1870s Hoosac Tunnel below Bennington on a spring evening with her riding pillion on her 50cc Triumph

Clearing it in the darkness through the east portal almost on the Massachusetts-Vermont line on the Deerfield River at Yankee Nuclear 

Coming out of the tunnel’s black, lit up with all its security lights Yankee Atomic was an improbable apparition

Like the parked spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it was as if with the resonant organ chords filling the Vermont night

She gasped, I howled

He accelerated unrelentlessly, 70, 80, slowing down, coasting, fast again, turning off his lights, flicking them on and off in dense fog at night up Route 22 between the New York City reservoirs and pulling on a pint of Scotch

His nickname was Fang, ex-CID and truly crazy in his intensity of undirected 1950s hopelessness

His ilk sourced out of Exeter, Choate, Deerfield, Hotchkiss, Andover, Kent, in those days with most headed into banking, which is what financial services was called then

It was almost another world  

In Korea as sergeant of the guard with the officer of the guard that night a preppy second john who came into orderly-room bunker clearing his forty-five with a round in the chamber that slammed into the sheetrock a few feet off my right ear

He was the one along with another ROTC lieutenant who tried twice to buddy-buddy me to get penicillin in the village for their clap 

And once on a steep fire in the San Gabriels moving across a sheer slope, a slurry drop from a bomber dislodged dodgeable rocks above except for one, it tore my fire shirt off as I caught it in my midriff and slammed me a few yards downslope

And once firing out at night up in the Sierras with the Taos Pueblo camp foreman, retreating down a creek wading along with lodgepole pines torching up on both sides, each one in a whoosh, then sparking down its whole height

Burning in the night  

With all the other serious matters nurtured in a few dozen emphatic particulars behind

Left to sit geezer-serene under a Key West Spanish lime in full moonlight near the end of the second decade of a further century, past most explanations but still second-guessing while playing catchup

Hyper-regularly with the TLS/NYR/LRB routine

Crouching as if off in the ditch with the spun-off wheel covers and vinegaroons

In peace, quiet and progress

With no tendency or time to hang around publishing populi and ingratiate

Instead here near stubby reef geckos in the duff and the diminutive ashy geckos close on the backlit screens at night

Last night the gibbous moon passed high overhead and in the morning a half-dozen least terns danced and dived above White Street Pier

Then off away as though leaving the Florida Straits for pelagic outer realms

Rapid energy in the LED electric dawn light against a dark rearing purple cloudbank in the west

It’s a fine place here

In front of 805 Frances Street until not long ago, now it is gone: “East Indian Almond or Malabar Almond (Terminalia catappa). Native of South Asia. Flesh is sweet and tart. Nut has pecan-like flavor. This tree was planted in 1921 in memory of Howard Sands, killed in France in World War I.” 

From pre-WWII days when Truman Avenue was Division Street

Elizabeth Bishop lived for a while in a house at 611 Frances there near the cemetery 

She also lived variously at 529 Whitehead near her Aunt Maud Shepherdson with whom she had supper nightly, in a house she bought in 1938 with Louise Crane at 624 White Street, at 623 Margaret with Marjorie Stevens, and in the winter of 1947 in Pauline Hemingway’s house at 907 Whitehead

All her Key West addresses are there on Google’s Street View, the Hemingway one, the house of Earnest and his six-toed cats, now has pricey tours

Elizabeth Bishop’s sojourns here, like Wallace Stevens’ and the others, poets in a continuum

With rare Bahama mockingbirds as unusual as the La Sagra’s flycatcher one early January out near the salt ponds, both more uncommon than the white-crowned pigeons up from Cuba seen sometimes high in the hardwoods

There’s a rich, somewhat dignified gay tradition, a mute respect among the Conchs for writers who arrive, there is a John Hersey writers’ compound on Solares Hill, a women’s house that flourished after Bishop’s time on Sugarloaf a key nearby

Mary Meigs would come there often

Mary talked quietly about Bishop, with awe

Her Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr, Wellfleet, Edmund Wilson        

Her Brittany, Gaspé and Kingsbury in the Cantons-de-l’Est with Marie-Claire Blais

Most of those of Mary’s era are gone now

Every fisherman lost, each hurricane passed, the “Remember the Maine” section of the cemetery, the Cuban wonders of the place with its deep Cuban-American and Bahamian identities, se habla español when it fits, the Fantasy Fest, the Conch Republic cool, the Boca Chica pilots and Army Special Forces on adjacent Fleming Key, the scruffy drunks and the respectable drunks, the clunker bicycles, the serene tolerance, the literati

Thirty-two streets, avenues and lanes have resplendent women’s names 

Olivia, Julia, Emma, Catherine, Juanita, Angela, Amelia, Caroline, Margaret, Virginia, Lucy, Paula, Josephine, Pearl, Elizabeth, Patricia, Ann, Margaret, Rose, Louisa, Linda, Paula, Eliza, Bertha, Vivian, Blanche, Petronia 

And the moon is overhead again, more ancient than the big gray-green iguanas, not yet common on Cayo Hueso when Elizabeth Bishop lived here

They climb slowly in the Spanish lime, royal poinciana and mahogany trees and when on the ground move tail-whip rapidly

In the same antecedent genre as the airport’s saltwater crocodile


D. E. Steward mainly writes months with 389 of them to date. Most of them are published, as is much of his short poetry. Five volumes of his months came out in 2018 as Chroma.