(Thirty-one Afternoons in Winter)

by Christy Sheffield Sanford

Me, reading in French under a hot setting sun, and thirty feet away, a six-foot alligator, doing nothing.

When will the outdoors be in my voice?

Soundscape: distant cars whir round a highway bend; nearby frogs emit a high-pitched vibrato; wind whishes leaves overhead; then a man's shoes pound the boardwalk, a bird's cry pierces all.

When I was a child, was I less afraid to touch this beautiful rot-wavy black gashes in gray green wood, chartreuse velour-like moss.

Everything around me trembles; I'm in synchrony with my surroundings.

Cold hands, encroaching bulldozers, but the lake's up, and I want a snake to swim toward me.

Female naturalist: "The young men come, even in the rain, holding their umbrellas."

Saw palmetto frond, severed, stuck amongst green plant fronds: the living and the dead coexist here.

Close to 5, dancing on the bridge, I raise my arms toward the blue sky, see a chalk-white half moon.

Kneeling, I open my right hand and press it hard against the damp soil, hoping the heartbeat of the earth will enter me.

Now I smell the swamp muck, but first I had to stand in it, let it seep over my stockings.

Draped around the base of a royal palm, a hair-veil of smilax-a wild pageboy with loops, tangles, knots, thorns; a few vines are alive, dead, alive again; a naturalist says, "Sometimes the inner core's still green."

As I'm walking, I feel like my clothes are falling off, and if I just keep walking, I'll eventually be naked.

In my path, a lake of clear tea I'd like to drink; instead I dip my hands in, enter the underwater artwork-a Japanese arrangement of pine needles, wood, rocks.

Sunlight plays over a scene, reveals a network of iridescent threads; what else is hidden here?

Got scared, got spooked. In two weeks, I've seen only one woman alone, a runner.

Rock music blaring from nearby apartment, soft air wafting over my face, blood lichen spotting moss on a large oak-long dead, split asunder by lightening.

On the path, roots, cigarette butts, snake holes, purple leaves among brown ones, then crunching through the woods a slider turtle that would fill my arms-its dark shell tattooed in an unknown language, its head striped with slick yellow and green pigment.

Walking west, blinded by light, surprised by a pile of uprooted ardisias- bright green shrubs with red berries.

The wind before the rain blows seeds and flowers at my feet: red and chartreuse winged maple pods with fat little seeds inside and tiny yellow blossoms from the jessamine vine.

High in a huge water oak, breezes sway fringes of Spanish moss; it's important to master that rhythm-those undulations and flapping.

Liana vines, thick as my arms-shooting up fifty feet, graceful, tortured, twisted-you are my favorite.

The fiddlehead ferns are unfurling; I fall into the hesitating march of a bride.

I keep jumping on benches, wanting to conduct the forest-so charged and musical.

I saw a green garter snake and a woman's blue underpants: it must be spring!

A pile of Spanish moss lies like a coat of curly hair tossed onto the path.

When my friend's little girl grabs a lizard, it bites her finger and holds on; she demands her mother kill it with an ax.

First I want to be so still the forest can take me; then I want to throw a tantrum, see if the forest will respond.

From 13th Street: an ambulance siren and smells of Chinese food-while leaves of low lying plants quietly flutter.

Slipping between the floor boards, bending over the walkway are tender smilax tendrils, tasting like earthy snow peas.

A black snake with red bands swims past, sinuously skirting the water plants; I want to jump in, apprentice to its power.

Process Description: On at least thirty-one occasions during the winter months of 1994, I visited Bivens Arm Park. The process was as follows: at the end of each trip to the park, I left one line on the "Visitor Comments" form. These comments were collected over time to form a meditative work called "Bivens Arm Nature Poem." From this method of working, I conceived of a new way to exhibit site-specific writing. Each of the the thirty-one phrases would be copied onto transparencies and then laminated. The phrases would be suspended on filament line and hung at the approximate site where they were originally written. A version of this work appeared in CHAIN, Vol. 1, #3, 1996.

Christy Sheffield Sanford, Copyright © 1996.
Back to Snakeskin archive