BIVENS ARM NATURE POEM
(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
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
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,
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
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
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
I keep jumping on benches, wanting to conduct the forest-so charged and
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.