Christy Sheffield Sanford
Tangerines and Fire
Berbers migrate. So, too, citrus. Take those tangerine grafts from
Tangiers—hardy sticks planted in Dr. Moragné’s garden. The fruit
of his neighbor Colonel Hart rivaled his own. Luxuriant groves
covered the banks of the St. Johns River. People love entrepreneurs
who seduce with bold fantasies and succulent realities.
Imagine obscene flowers in profusion. Red ribbons, purple cones,
chartreuse bananas. Perfume of lemon rind, esters escaping into night
air. Orchards so inviting, the northern commander disobeys orders
to burn them. The militia bivouacs ashore—drawn by juices that drip
over the chin. That’s one story. Palatka saved by hungry, thirsty men.
In 1884, the tangerine, indeed all the trees, and most of downtown,
Harriet Beecher Stowe points at a St. Johns River boat, informs
Colonel Hubbard Hart: “I refuse to ride in that coffin.” Yet she does
board the Hiawatha paddle wheeler bound for Silver Springs. In
Palmetto Leaves, she recalled the cathedral canopy, grassy depths,
wafting orange clouds. Floating the Ocklawaha, one could pluck
a Clementine or, to her dismay, shoot a gator.
Train whistle sounds a warning. In 1894, rising sap froze; fruit fell
two feet deep.
Memory of bovine belly, bladder, lights, teats—piney woods cattle
lumbering. A silk purse made from a cow’s ear—hair tightly woven,
decorated with jet paillettes and beetle wings. Secreted inside the satin-
lined paradise: thick glossy leaves from a Satsuma orange. If snapped
in half the juices spurt. That’s how lush is Harriet’s interior.
She dips a pen into indigo ink, scribbles white night-rushes on muslin.
Neck flushes. She loosens her button boots, petticoats. Blouse open, wild,
undone, the real Florida. Damp curls unfurl. Black lace mantilla falls
from her shoulders. Ms. Stowe is naked and alone on deck. She rumbas,
cups her breasts with pink grapefruit halves, offers them to the moon.
Hothouse of bananas and desire. “I gave myself to you, and you will
never forget me.”
Sunday morning on the road – assorted victims. Red corn snake died
five days ago. Tire tread visible fore and aft. Decomposition arduous.
Beige and red now gone. For several days, slick black and white pattern
lingered. I flip the body over. Flies-in-wait attack the tail.
Male cardinal lies face down. A wispy feather flutters in the wind. I turn
the mortified bird over. Intact. Yellow jacket forages for an eye. Red ants
feverishly work from the inside. Did the bird hit a windshield?
Nearby, witness clump of black scat with purple berries. On the path,
sunlight strikes two gold foil Magnum wrappers. In the grass, a cream-
colored condom, holding dead sperm. Brown wallet with driver’s license
of Melrose man, age 50. Red Top snuff card.
Is this a crime scene? We need a forensics expert. On the road, lies a gray
plastic bottle, a flattened grenade. Turn over with tongs. Few steps away,
tampon with string attached, wings open, unbloodied, ground into dirt.
His family remembers him, this man I will not name.
He was 22, death recent. A loved one has placed his color photo
into the clip of a plastic trident—card holder from a bouquet.
He wears a white sweat shirt. Who wants to be seen after death
in underwear? He sports a buzz cut. The image reminds me
of military men on the sandy outskirts of Baghdad. Guys killing
time, playing basketball in sweats and camouflage pants.
Left in the elements, his photo has been decaying—first, losing
every color but red. He looked like one of those Saginaw natives
who decides to get a Florida tan but falls asleep on the beach.
Lobster red. Then, after another rain, a white wedge appeared
in his head.
A friend wants to be buried in a box that decomposes in concert
with his flesh.There is one wooden marker here, bottom riddled
with holes like driftwood. Heart pine has outlasted the honoree’s
body. If only those of us alive-alive-oh could fall in sync with life’s
crescendo. Cheat on a photo curling into the fetal position.Revel
in denying efforts to spank or sap intimacy.
Death, give me another chance to dance devil-may-care over
Weeks later, image reveals a man with face eaten away in spots.
Post-storm: the man has become a Goya sketch—old with white
wispy hair, skin dribbling in fatty patches, black eyes in deep sockets.
One day, I notice the scroll is tightly coiled. I unroll the paper, now
blank. Secrets wiped. Later still, trident and scroll are gone.
Dum, Tacit, Clamat (ethics, aesthetics, and socialism)
In death he speaks. Silent he clamors. Gone but left message. Lips zipped
I know exactly where I was when threatened with family expulsion. My father
was driving the black Studebaker down Peachtree Street. Passing Regenstein’s
window of evening gowns, I said to my mother, “Ewww. Blue and green don’t
go together.” “Who told you that?” she snapped, “that’s stupid.” Thus began,
at age 7, lessons in Balenciaga, color and not being a toady. Develop discerning
eye or hit the road. To question an orange and red combo demanded I know
variables: value, percent, tint.
I stand arrested before logs stacked on end—Woodmen of the World marker—
nearby other genre examples: a tree stump and horizontal log-pile. In 1890,
Mr. Root began the all-white-until-1977 WOW insurance company. No
member would suffer the shame of an unmarked grave. Guaranteed: carved
granite tombstone with insignia and motto dum tacit clamat inscribed
around a stump. Motifs “whupped” by the ugly stick but with obvious pride
and conscious aesthetic.
Walking Ravine Gardens last night, I overheard two men: “I was raised to never
take government money.” I thought where do you think you are! We’re in a WPA
project built by the Feds, supported by the State, not our measly dues. FDR’s
65-foot obelisk frowns, rotates a quarter turn. My new stomping ground West View
is a City cemetery, maintained by convicts. And what of the fraternal tax exempt
WOW, run by a Sovereign Camp, with advocacy and perks.
My mother had papal power to excommunicate. In another car ride at almost
the same spot on Peachtree, I asked, “Did you ever cheat on a test?” She whipped
around, fixed me in the eyes and said, “No, and you won’t either!” Against popular
wishes, my father covered names of art show entrants. Equal to honesty and
aesthetics was a corollary: never curry favor. My parents had few moral imperatives.
I think they both liked con artists; I do. Even then, we weren’t Christian.
Christy Sheffield Sanford lives and works in St. Augustine, Florida fifteen minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. She has won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and is the author of seven small press books including The Cowrie Shell Piece (Baroque and Rococo Strains) and The Kiss. Her digital poetry animations have recently been published by Open: a Journal of Arts & Letters, A Room of Her Own, Amp and Atticus Review. Sanford has work forthcoming from Cathexis NorthwestPress and Raw Art Review. A3 included her in “The Triangles” Issue.