As if we were waiting out the morning for an appointment,
it began to rain on the black asphalt and the spread of archaic, almost
Jurassic vegetation outside the hotel room,
and on the open water miles away from Marathon, and on the roofs of dive shops
and tourist diners with their broken vinyl seats,
by the remnants of Henry Flagler's failed railroad,
a monument to the youth of capitalism, it began to rain, the storm spreading
with something like discipline on this cusp of sunlight.
We had prepared for something before we left, but it wasn't this—
ocean on either side, the greenness of tiny keys scattered for miles,
the darker intimation of seaweed far out in the sandy shallows.
Waiting for our shirts to dry at a laundromat in Key West, a man with an iguana
riding on his shoulder, its tail stretching down to the small of his back,
holds him up to preen for my camera. The iguana is named Zephyr,
and the man looks as though he's emerged from the late 80s, unscathed,
waiting for nothing in his life but the thrill of hurricane warnings.
Farther down the road, beyond moored houseboats anointed with the holiness
of vacation homes—unassuming wreaths on each door,
jigsaw’ed caricatures of marine life—a flurry of floating shacks bob,
houseboats pieced together from old doors and plywood,
preternaturally bright blue Wal-Mart tarpaulins and outdoor umbrellas.
Later, photographs are astounding in their clarity, the tiled facades of Miami
hotels a colored contrast with the dapple-edged
black and white photos of my uncles,
adolescents on the beach, posed with their inflatable toys.
Who would have thought from that, there had blossomed cocaine addiction and open-heart
surgery, and an intolerance that opened inside me too,
like the flowering of mold, subtle and indistinct at once.
Who could have foretold the flowering of paradox that arose from Florida,
its mangrove trees, roots falling from their branches to meet the earth
aside Exxon stations; lizards poised on sidewalk in the instant
between movement and stillness, their necks pulsing like heartbeats
at the edge of shadow; the serpentine-tangle of highways and expressways,
a galaxy of chutes and ladders; the pager stores and pawn shops of Little Havana,
restaurants whose bars open onto the dirty sidewalk, hard knots of workers
on their lunch break, the air full of Spanish and the sizzle of cooking food,
and on every corner, a tapestry of violent fuchsia Bougainvilleas, impositions of verdance
upon the city as vulgar as catcalls.
Even learning Florida's idiosyncracies ("Keys disease," stilt-houses, six-toed cats, & alligators lurking in the art deco), there's still a suspension of disbelief, as if in some flash the alien vegetation you'd never suspected could exist will vanish. Beneath it, the aisles of a Wal-Mart or Target? An upscale suburb? The skeletons of a film set, in a Midwestern state?