NASA raced Russia to the moon

while I built forts with Spanish moss and palm fronds,

kept baskets of crab’s eye, their red and black seeds

that with one swallow could kill. I shook them

in their claw-pods and loved death’s power, feared it

in the tight spaces of my bones, the way I’d been taught

to fear the flash of a coral snake among sandspurs

and railroad vine.


Sometimes I heard explosions

at the Cape, imagined clouds of herons lifting

from the mangrove’s roots, snakes disappearing

underneath the swamp’s black mirror; otters, turtles,

the dragonfly, all things alive suddenly disappeared

in air-shredding noise of tests gone wrong.


Stars flashed like little pins through

my frond roof the night my mother called me from the woods

to the rectory porch for watermelon, iced tea and a rocket launch.

In cowboy boots and terrycloth, I picked verbena for my hair,

listened to grownup talk, my brother’s baby songs

in air sweet with salt, a little breeze against my neck.


Across the street, the men in jail

weren’t at the windows so I couldn’t talk to them. Instead,

I fiddled with periwinkle, lantana and trumpet vine,

tucked them in my shorts, my hair, my cowboy boots.


We heard the launch,

watched the rocket’s trail rise like a white lariat

until the sky ripped open like a bag of blood,

another launch gone wrong, but this time

I tilted into the sky’s huge bowl, falling into the red,

the stars a smear of fire now, living things now dead,

my feet no longer on the Earth.


When the world righted itself, flowers

still peeked from my boots, the grownups still on the porch,

but it was as though I’d swallowed the beautiful crab’s eye

and those seeds had hurtled me into an edgeless world

far beyond what I’d been taught to fear.