Exile in Florida | by Ange Mlinko
To have fun World Peace Day in mid-September, my teenage son was instructed by his academics to go across the yard taking photographs of wildlife and add them to an app that will determine their varieties. These then confirmed up on a map, amongst different photographs taken by customers within the neighborhood. Presumably, the scientists who data-mine this kind of factor will see what new species are at the moment invading north-central Florida suburbs. I think myself of being an unique, and unwelcome, invader and briefly marvel what I seem like right here: presumably like my aged poodle, all overgrown on this eighty-four-degree day in October.
Since shifting south from New York Metropolis, I’ve needed to relearn every part I learn about my habitat. I’ve simply, with nice ceremony, eaten my first Valencia orange of the season; there are three extra on the tree, getting extra lantern-bright by the day. Ditto my copious yield of Meyer lemons. My vinegar standby is a squeeze of calamondin—I simply attain out my entrance door. In trade, I’ve lived with out lilacs, forsythia, and crocuses. I used to be simply educating James Schuyler’s tender backyard poems to a workshop (on Zoom, but) and was introduced up brief by reminiscences of hostas and horse chestnuts.
In early spring I used to be sheltering in place on my porch, birdwatching in a desultory method, when one thing I’d not seen earlier than burst into view among the many cardinals and sparrows and wrens: bluebirds. They nested someplace past a neighbor’s fence however crossed my yard on frequent errands. When a pair of crows noisily moved in, the bluebirds vanished. Spooked, after which heartbroken, I regarded out for them till the warmth set in and solely butterflies, dragonflies, and lizards flitted within the lethargic air.
Down the street is the Baptist church (however one can say that about any street hereabouts) that I’ll march to subsequent month to vote. I’ll cross the huge acres of parking areas on foot and negotiate the labyrinthine complicated to the polling website. I’ve by no means attended a megachurch, even on a lark. I’ve by no means stepped in a Bass Professional Store, the place I’m instructed should you cling across the ammunition aisle you could be recruited for a “militia.” I’ve by no means gone to a soccer recreation, a lot much less a tailgate social gathering. These traits alone determine me as a nonnative species.
I do know what a caricature this appears like, but it surely’s actually not. To all appearances, my neighborhood is sort of various, at the very least racially. Subsequent door to us is a Black man; on the opposite facet, Asian immigrants. For all that, I stay in a land of Trump/Pence indicators. My Black neighbor is carrying a MAGA hat as he stands on his entrance garden speaking on his mobile phone. I’ll in all probability be carrying blue on voting day, as a lot for the persecuted bluebirds as for the Democrats.
In the meantime, stay with out dread? I play Víkingur Ólafsson’s Bach on CD, as if to hasten my passage from plague state to fugue state. I make an inventory of Louise Glück’s poems for my college students; her Nobel win is the closest I can come to pleasure in being an American in 2020. I additionally mourn the poet Derek Mahon, who died in the beginning of October. He was Irish, not American, however such distinctions hardly matter: we’re English-language poets. In my nation, whose climate blows lyric a technique and satire one other, the English language is at all times exact, each mot juste, and anybody can go to who desires to.
Considered one of Mahon’s nice poems, “Ovid in Tomis,” imagines the Roman poet’s exile to the Black Sea, the place he suffered from the lack of his metropolis, his language, all pleasure, all status. I can’t make the identical claims of loss, however I sympathize strongly with the poet who can’t make sense of the society he finds himself in, and turns to his personal work as an alternative, and to nature:
Six years now
Since my relegation
To this city
By the late Augustus.
Provides me a way
However I feel it’s the birds
That please me most,
The cranes and pelicans.
I typically sit within the dunes
To the uninhibited
Virtuosity of a lark
Serenading the solar
And meditate upon
Of earthly dominion,
The perfidy of princes.