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Trouble in Paradise

A poem by Terry Ann Thaxton, associate professor of creative writing 

Spring 2015


I. Open Curtain

These blinds are always open. In their veins
Florida is filled with grass like a tiled
green journal dotted with moss and pine
needles that have fallen during the rains.

There’s nothing to say about her. She stains
my garden with an unlived story, glides
from a past to our present; her words hide
beneath leaves. I am jealous. But I’ll hang

on like the sun in the summer solstice,
like saw palmetto buried in the woods —
a woodpecker that clings to the hollow

tree. Can’t he see that she is a temptress
instead of an ancient and cherished book?
She’s a room filled with poems I’ll never know.

II. The Setting in the Trees

There’s a room filled with poems she’ll never know:
Florida polished green, its vines and shrubs,
burgundy toenails that I use to grab
his back on our bed. Birds out the windows.

She’ll never be part of a saw palmetto
that cannot, with twenty shovels, be budged
nor has she stood with him at dusk on mud
flats, watching geese that left behind the snow.

He brought back to me a soft roseate
spoonbill feather from the marsh, a bouquet
of weeds from the roadside of his hometown.

We found a box, and in it, clothes that fit
us, we dipped our fingers into red paint,
we were no longer pots turned upside down.

III. The Dance

There was no need to turn pots upside down;
instead at my window, I watched, each day
an oak grow, then lean, still holding blue jays,
and moss winked at a mating pair of owls.

From our second story bedroom, the brown
world is a letter to not throw away,
and he is the warbler ready for play —
I’ll be the wren hoping that my new sound

will last beyond the boardwalk over scrub
and beyond the pine trees that ache to crawl
toward the sky. I could become a dirt road,

or an emerald fish in an open tub,
or lie beneath the wild camphor tree. I’ll
dance with him. Hold hands, even when we’re old.

IV. Final Scene

I’ll dance, hold his hand, even when we’re old
waiting in line at the store to buy cookies and milk.
The arbor we built years before will
be rotting. The bougainvillea, its bold

leaves of red, its white stamen, will have lulled
the pine tree to remain with us, but still
the gardenia never blossomed. To kill
it, I mixed its dirt with women who called

and I threw them out. I am the one in charge
of this garden. Here were tears, oak trees fell
and some flowers died. There will be no more

to say about intruders to our yard.
We’ll enclose the back porch. The only bell:
woodpeckers tapping words on our front door.

From The Terrible Wife, copyright ©2013 Terry Ann Thaxton. Reprinted by permission of Salt Publishing.

Terry Ann Thaxton is an associate professor and the director of the M.F.A. in creative writing program in the Department of English. This poem appears in The Terrible Wife, which was awarded the 2013 Florida Book Award in Poetry bronze medal. Her first book of poems, Getaway Girl, won the 18th Annual Frederick Morgan Poetry Prize in 2011. She has also written a textbook, Creative Writing in the Community: A Guide.

Illustration by Matt Saunders