Prince Prospero at Boca Grande
Brown salty water foams and surges
through the narrow slit forty feet deep
past the sandy nose of Little Gasparilla,
the empty weathered frame
of the unfinished house on its beach.
No one is here to see the grim parade
coming in with the tide.
Red grouper with bulging eyes, line-sided snook,
brown cobia, speckled trout, horseshoe crabs,
minnows of every stripe and hue.
All dead and floating belly up.
Acrid airs of ammonia mingled
with the stench of rotting fish
hang like a canopy over the scene
as the tide flows under the bridge
and into the mouth of Charlotte Harbor.
Carcasses fan out and come to roost on sandbars,
eddy around the base of trestle pilings.
Some, like styrofoam trash, line the tangled roots
of mangrove shorelines where unseen vultures
flap their wings among the leaves
and tussle for a seat at the table.
On posh islands along the coast,
tourists stay in their rooms and watch TV.
A waiter folds linen napkins,
stares out the window at the littered beach
where even gulls refuse to eat.
Charter captains clean and oil their gear,
mend nets, and hope that time like tide
will reverse itself, flow backwards
into the days of paradise gone by.
All caught in the grip of one fantasy or another,
while outside their windows
up and down the coast
in the unconditioned air of reality
Red Tide holds dominion everywhere.