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Daytona in Three Movements

So my tendency is to use this forum to journalize experience. Here is something intended sociologically.

My childhood was spent in a town called Daytona Beach, memories of which tend to come back this time of year because of the media coverage of the Daytona 500. I've drawn on those memory-experiences many times, not out of nostalgia but because, placed in a petrie dish, it makes for a hell of a sociological study.

Daytona was not a good town for children, at least not if the parents were tied to the tourist industry. Daytona was also, presumably still is, a violent place. When an adult I met an old man off-shore who was an alcoholic when back in New Orleans. When he learned I was from Daytona he immediately said, "That's my town!" He was a cook on the rig and forever after he took special culinary care of me. He told me that when he was growing up there was a mid-summer festival. The booze, the partying, the sun bathing, the drugs, and the violence. He said that if someone murdered someone else they would be put in jail, but only for the duration of the festival, since, outrage was to be expected. When I was a child Daytona's city fathers were not so allowing. But the booze, drugs, and violence were the same. When a teenager, on a Saturday night going out, last thing my mother would say to me was, 'Don't forget your knife'. And it became accentuated when the bikers came to town. No boy in his right mind would take a girlfriend to Main St., which was located beachside, on the peninsula. If we did go to Main St we went in groups.

As bad as was the violence what was worse, wore more on the body, was the drinking and the drugs. So many bars, so much decadence, so many back alleys, so many women who, like the men, came to town to get libido crazy, just so many opportunities. Mind you, it wasn't all just child's play. My mother was a waitress, father a cook, step-father a bartender. And not a one of them faithful in the late night hours when the bars closed. Circumstance was general to the town, not at all particular to my family. Crazy, tawdry, commercial town, working-class decadence.

Of the 3 boys in my family who grew up there I'm the only survivor. One brother got drunk on a Saturday night. With 2 friends he drove up into Tomoka swamp wanting to chase the ghost lights (phosphorescence from the swamp reflected on the side of the road in head lamps). Corvair hit the soft, white sand shoulder, flipped a few times, tearing all 3 into a bunch of body parts. My other brother wasn't as lucky. Kept alive for another few decades, a shell of a man. Whoring, drinking, using drugs. Maybe his really bad luck is that women loved his bedroom eyes. He had so many wives, only a few of which I got to meet. But it was Daytona that did him in, what he knew as normal from the time he was born.

I hated that town. Even as a child I knew it wasn't normal, something deadly wrong. I hated the people who worked it and the people who, when in town as tourists, came there to get, as I say, libido-crazy. I lucked out. At age 16 an older brother invited me to live with him in NC. With no hesitation, certainly no remorse or nostalgia, I got out of there. Convinced it saved my life. I knew even then that an average life span of anyone living there was maybe 30, maybe 40. Beachside bar women, most the women there, go wizened early and men go gray in the eyes. Funny thing is that people who live there feel themselves lucky, elected, and look down on tourists who can only visit.

But I also loved the environment in which I spent so many open ended days. On the maybe quarter mile wide peninsula I had the ocean to the east and the intertidal, brackish river to the west. And the stretches of scrub oak and palmetto. There I found my best friends. The porpoises, baby sea turtles in pre-dawn, the Nor'easters, the islands in the river, the moccassins, the coons, the surf, the inlet, the surf action that rocked me to sleep, a few of my familiars.

I could go on, but enough. A few years ago, again about this time of the year, I made a trilogy of poems drawing on Daytona. Portrait is not complete. Maybe it touches on, fleshes out something about Daytona.

Daytona in Three Movements

(Memory Seizure)

On my home town that
has mention in the news today,
the very thing to set one down,
to quickly, to remember how
close I cam to losing the weave, or
texture of the years threaded through,
insiding on days since then.

Once Daytona, once
the tidewater town and once again.

Somehow I was slated to survive
her boundary moon and boardwalk bride,
her undercurrent, her fierce surge,
her persistent pull tidal to
the leading lady's hand upon
the shell saw's cut of marks across
young, uncontaminated hearts.

A little brother didn't make it,
his body bleached, blanched, his
eyes as gray as graveyard marble.
Nor the better brother too
who was set upon, torn into body parts,
missed in mid-action the night
he went on fast patrol, speeding for
the swamp raised, the
phosphorescent smile of
ghostly girls said to keep just ahead, said to stay
in roadside frond of sable palms.

I cannot see why it should be,
or how to comprehend the containment.
And then the seized sense of betrayal at
having survived that beachside's call
for unweildy sons and incautious lovers.

(The Primitive)

Spatially stationed, poised,
above the beach made
of white woman sand, and of
ground down, water worried,
pastel coquina shell;
and there the drop curtain
of live oak and palm scrub,
the Florida interior
whose moist breath expands
the dark mother heart.

The peninsular strand that
cannot remain much longer.
Another few thousand years
at the most to host
land life's exotic tissue before
sink hole and sandbar
submerge with the dream.
It's just a liquid door, what
opens, what closes like
a two-way mirror.

I saw it all that day,
lifted on the seventh swell,
the gray-green, the storm,
the Nor-easter's white wave.
Kept in motional place, in
matrix of the moment, in
priveliged position to see
the abstract overview just as
cresting collapses and
wet fingers take hold
and noon becomes midnight
and hard floor bottom bruises,
scrapes the chin until
in nano-second young
education is complete.

And surfer Joe who says,
"Never lose your backdoor, dude."

(The Smuggler)

This old man has come home at last,
the career criminal and mystic adept.
Inside from the sea, or between
the spine of beach head and tidal river,
he has made of his yard the inside village.

I think the instinct has to do with
his half-breed mother and Lower Creek;
he the favored child of twelve
who, on the winter night she died,
saw the flame stream leave through her window.

I asked what he learned on the Rosy Cross.
Love is the law he says the Master said.

In long light through the summer he
hand feeds the woman coon who then
hand feeds the litter she keeps in order.
He sits stooped over, he tamps a pipe. He waits.
His coffee cup is kept whiskey sweet.
And she, he says, always shows on schedule.

"I wonder," he asks, "if you can know
how this girl will eat her young, one by one,
when danger leaves her no escape."

Picture the place. The backyard
of his hidden, overgrown, Florida home;
and liquid light, what drizzles through
the unshed of wind squat, live oak trees.
There to make the pools of cool shade,
or is it pooling ponds of warm light between
the coves of dark shade, or is it instead
the blanched island touching toe
while he draws a map in the sand
whose land he says to memorize?

But this is a stolen tale I tell.
Mystic and felon, the old man's mother ate him.


Last edited by Terreson, Oct/9/2020, 8:43 pm
Mar/7/2013, 9:58 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
Terreson Profile
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Re: Daytona in Three Movements

You know something? When it comes to Florida I've always looked down on Wallace Stevens, Hemingway, and Jimmy Buffet. All colonials and exploitive. Unless you know a place from the inside out you're a colonial.

Mar/7/2013, 10:07 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
Katlin Profile
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Re: Daytona in Three Movements

Hi Tere,

Three strong poems. I remember reading the trilogy before, but the addition of the personal field note here sets them in context and gives them even more resonance. When I was growing up, I went with my dad and his side of the family to Fort Lauderdale every summer for 2 to 3 weeks. The Florida I knew, which was the fantasy Florida of tourists, was very different from the Florida you knew growing up. I always wished I lived in Florida year round, but you've made me see the flipside of the place.
Mar/15/2013, 11:48 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
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Re: Daytona in Three Movements

Yeah. Flipside dark and dirty. No child should have to grow up in such decadence. But, of course, a bunch of children do.

Mar/15/2013, 8:38 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson

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