Developers at Crystal River

James Merrill

Elysian glade—
Roilings, upshudderings
Of tinsel, mirror-sycamores in wind …
No, we are underwater.
These are the Springs:
From deep below the bottom of white sand
Mercurial baubles effervesce
To aerate
A glassed-in bower of bliss
They keep at 74 degrees.

The mother manatees,
Brought here as babies, bring their babies here
To see the year-round decorations
And revel in each “tree’s”
Renewing fruitlessness.
Muses of sheer
Indolence they arc, and foes
To nothing in creation
—Least of all, those
Luscious undulating lawns downstream

Plowing through which, a sudden
Tenor scream,
The power launch veers—on guard!
Paths widen blue, then redden …
The huge, myopic cows go unheard. Poor
Finely-wrinkled humps
Over and over scarred
By the propellers, gaffs and garden tools
The boatmen use on them for fun,
Each year are fewer.

Sweet heaven, here comes one!—
No heavier than a sigh
Or small dirigible
Gone limp, or adipose
Naiad walking through murk, on knives. Unmarriageable
(Unless to the Prince of Whales)
In her backwater court
She’ll have escaped our human hells—?
Look how the blades have cut
Even into her.

Intuiting the visitor,
She drifts closer;
Flippers held out, deprecative but lonely,
Makes to salute
Her long-lost cousin with his
Flippers, his camera and visor.
Time stops as, face to face,
She offers what he’ll only
Back on Earth find words for—a rueful, chaste,
Unshaven kiss.

James Merrill (1926–1995) was one of the foremost American poets of the later twentieth century. He published eleven volumes of poems, in addition to the trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover. He also wrote plays, novels, and a memoir.
Originally published:
October 1, 1980

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