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Two hundred miles from home in a lodge built of cypress, I watch the hurricane bloom on the news. When hawkers of hormones and call-anytime lawyers interrupt, I take solace from alternate views. Passion flower and farewell summer, indigenous dwellers on upland savannah, nod heads in a breeze benign and far removed from landfall.

The morning after, a neighbor assures me our inland abodes were spared the worse. Storm shutters askew, bashed gutters, yards littered with limbs and mud. That barrier island, she says, saved our butts.

Driving convoluted detours home, I worry. How much longer can an overbuilt sandspit shield mainlanders? Earth rooting yaupon and myrtle have been usurped by imported palms, the darlings of upscale realtors. Dunes anchored by saltbush and sea oats once hunkered down shore like sentinels on guard duty. But they’ve been trampled by tourists, toppled by front loaders, trucked off by city fathers hell bent on parking garages. Live oaks that tame gales when granted life in groves, were winnowed, culled. Discount landscapers scattered scrawny foreign maples on the mall’s concrete islands. Neither was up to the job. Eleventh graders slammed councilmen with protest poetry. The mayor no-showed at the eleventh hour. Monarchs, racerunners, beach mice, all evicted. No mercy.

 Turning right where the beach road goes left, I am met with the spoils of a wrongheaded war. Nothing here the victor would want. Cell antennas dangle from crumpled towers like weather vanes gone AWOL. Snapped cables lie surrendered by zipline constructors who straddled sandhills. Staves of plasticized wood from keep-out fences pin a golf cart overturned. Pigeons who stole the niches of gulls peck the wiry guts of a neon sign that usually flashes Turn Around, No Access, Private.

Four nights after homecoming, I sit on my porch, vowing to let mimosa and wild magnolia overgrow the creek border. For the sake of unborn newts and salamanders, leaf litter will remain. Still, I worry. What of the fawn who forged at the edge of my woods? Were hummers depending on feeders I had to remove?

The fox who was a kit in May steps from his mangled cover, rotates paddle shaped ears my way. Partners in mental telepathy, we have a history. Still as the eye of a cyclone, he hears what I have to say. How on earth did you make it? The flooding den, collapsing burrow, the killing wind no small earthbound creature could venture into?

He fixes his gaze on my face, a seer summoned to a backyard oracle. Never mind about that. We have our own version of divine providence. Did you notice the arrogant hawk who thought himself apex predator soaring over conquered territory, no longer hunts from aloft? Have you heard the bleat of a scurrying rat, caught a glint off fur of a rabbit? I believe that hawk has been swept away, and now, it’s time for my supper.


Claire Massey has published prose and poetry in Persimmon Tree, Panoply, Tiny Seed, Flashes of Brilliance, Flights 2020 and Wilderness House Literary Review, among others. Her work is forthcoming in Saw Palm: Journal of Florida Art and Literature. She was selection editor for the 2019 print edition of The Emerald Coast Review and will serve as Prose Manager for the 2021 issue. 

© 2021, Claire Massey

6 comments on “Clean Sweep, by Claire Massey

  1. I’m still reeling from the imagery in this piece. What a wonderful job the writer does in conveying her love of nature (flora and fauna). While I know people including the writer had to be impacted by the storm, I really connected with the fawn and fox and all the feathered aviators mentioned! Descriptors like “all evicted” and “wiry guts” … brilliant. Thank you for sharing this Claire. I hope to read more of your work.


  2. Lori Zavada says:

    I’m still reeling from the imagery in this piece. The writer does a great job of connecting us to flora and fauna in the midst of loss and starting over. I know that people, including the writer, were impacted by the storm, but I’m mostly drawn to the fawn, fox and all the feathered aviators she mentions. Terms like “all evicted” and “wiry guts” were the perfect descriptors. Thank you for sharing this Claire, and I hope to read more of your work!


  3. pblackgould says:

    Claire’s work tugs at my heartstrings. She has such an amazing way of capturing the impact of this storm. What I love is her ability to turn on a dime when going from discount landscapers, to protest poetry, and a non-show mayor to “Monarchs, racerunners, beach mice, all evicted. No mercy.”
    She hits hard and deep, which is exactly what this storm did. I mourn the loss.
    I enjoy reading Claire’s work.


  4. L. A Kelley says:

    Wonderful imagery. Anyone who has spent time on the beautiful Florida coast reels from developers’ destruction and lack of concern for the environment. Well done.


  5. Terri Barlotta says:

    The vivid imagery in this piece uniquely describes the aftermath of the destruction of natural habitats. I especially love the telepathic communication between the author and the fox!
    I look forward to reading more of Claire’s work in the future.


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