after midnight, Big Cypress
seeking refuge again
at the edge of the continent
following the paths bears still walk
past Apalachicola
and Chassahowitzka
through hardwoods and palmettos
until I break down, stuck in the swamp

listening to night from the roadside
I find no sleep
while rifle shots, at least,
have ceased

but that doesn’t stop the headlights
and a truck rumbles by
with a black carcass
strapped on top

the stars are hazy here
and darkness tries to conceal
lost marooned and Seminole shades,
Red Sticks running south,
outnumbered, wielding cloven clubs
there are too many to beat

with nothing left to hunt
the panthers ponder their reflection
in still, silver waters
twitching when
the Soldierwood seeds

when the night gets too heavy
and I feel my own ghosts
rushing to join them
I stand,
flick a flashlight at the sky
and try to hold
my shadow in place

Note: Before the 2015 bear hunt, Florida was home to nearly 3,000 Florida Black Bears. Large mammals require large foraging area. Florida black bears range from hardwood forests of Florida’s north to swamps of the south. Apalachicola, Chassahowitzka, and Big Cypress areas are home to large bear populations and near where many bears were killed during the two-day hunt. Florida is, familiarly, home to the Seminoles. “Red Sticks” in the poem were Creek warriors forced South in Florida after the Creek War 1813-1814. Creek warriors were called Red Sticks for their red-colored war clubs.