Turning Around

by | Dec 26, 2020 | December 2020 Writing | 7 comments

Turning Around

Effective Dec. 19, 2020

  • The playground at Paynes Creek Historic State Park is now open for public use.
  • 11,682 new cases of COVID-19 are officially registered in Florida.


Any of us just replicas of old forts
some Spanish, some against each other,
some the natives burned down, though
the mosquitoes most threatened our men

Ours – a term of endearment that means
interloper. How now to get coffee,
flour, a few grams of sugar?

Where do you think the matches
came from? In abandoned outposts
we make payment to The Iron Ranger

a metal post with a square slot so no
human hands are involved
Places like these still contain
forest and honor system

The only human ranger passes
in a gas-powered cart as we turn
around on a gravel road a bit
rugged for a Japanese sedan

I looked into the job once:
interface with the public, repair
the bridge, enforce the law, collect
the trash, mind the till, top out at 28k

What the hell is wrong with this picture?
The playground bound in caution tape

I wonder if The Human worries about
feeding her family as we volunteer out
the window, unbidden, We’re just turning
around, To everything, turn, a psalm

played prerecorded for a grandfather I
can’t remember. History is like that. Is
that why we’re drawn to reenactments?

Those have been canceled until further notice

We help a tortoise across the road. Light
lets itself in through slats of wood where
once stood interstices of military strategy

a timber church to bad ideas rebuilt by
refrains of when will we ever learn? Real
popcorn not for sale under pandemic rules

under a burned-letter sign reading Trading
Post. An engraved moon on false outhouse,
all facade in need of real hands for upkeep

Teens skip virtual learning to splash
in real post-storm water. Turtles all the
way down is still my religion too. I’m
just not that observant anymore. It’s
expensive to tithe endlessly to nothing

Peace River doesn’t mean what we thought,
volunteers the wiki through a virtual window,
but we now know all its crossings and its
Seminole name and what it means

but we never did the hike to the graves


  1. Rogan

    Sara, I like the title and the framing with the bulleted points which are also heartbreaking. I really think the poem begins at, “In abandoned outposts. I would cut the Japanese sedan line as it diverts focus. I know there are these opportunities for questions and social/political commentary and they are important, as found in the opening two stanzas. But I just wonder if the poem is served by keeping focus on the subject at hand, which is also of social/political importance. I’ll also add that I find questions tricky to pull off in lyrical poetry, as they typically deaden the music. You have this great turn at, “I looked into the job once…” And I like the question at picture. I wouldn’t capitalize human. The observations of turtle and church work because they add to the scene in some way. There’s a great poem in here. I just think it needs to be brought into closer focus. It’s difficult to weave what we’ve done to the Seminole in here. I don’t question your heart or meaning for a second. The danger is if the poem is misread as you making a kind of equivalency. I’m sure you’ll find the range. But I would also argue that there’s a specific powerful poem in the way we seem to blindly marching to a death that might be served without trying to layer the other sins. I also could be wrong.

  2. John Steines

    I really enjoyed reading this, then I went to the official park site on web, and that deepened my appreciation. The work feels to pivot on: ‘What the hell is wrong with this picture? The playground bound in caution tape’ both structurally and emotionally, especially as that image sinks in. The reality of splashing in water and assisting the turtle vs an (always) interpreted history and ‘resurrection’, icons not meaning what they’re intended to mean. ‘Peace River…the hike to the graves’ – you do a nice job of laying these contradictions out, all under the veil of an act of overriding circumstances. For me, the content and contrasts linger. Thanks.

  3. David O'Connor

    Great draft, I’m also confused/amazed/angry at the seemingly random and anti-logic of the quarantine laws… could be a whole collection. This poem has a great set up and almost keeps a narrative. I think there is a little repetition in the middle–pick your battles and nail them out of the park!! Also in the last stanza, “volunteers the wiki” made me stop and think, which is good, so many meanings–I wonder if the tech-tools could be brought to the forefront, except for the “virtual learning” (which is another whole collection!) maybe tech vs nature and what we were before this plague is the theme… great work! Love the turtle and all the free flow! Merci!!

  4. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Sara, I love this poem, the way it references history–– as does the park itself ––the rhythms and the layers of complexity between now and then. Whether you drop the beginnings as Rogan suggests or not, I think might depend on your audience, but for me, the beginning is crucial. It’s reference to the problematic history, “our” relationship to those who’ve lived there before the fort heightens the complexity of this country to “its” land. I like the way you heightened the “our” but I also am still struggling with how “ours” references interloper. I’d like to see a little more development of that idea because it is intriguing. The only other suggestion, I might substitute “Japanese” for small, because it connotes still another place in an already complex poem. I love too, the way you highlighted the contrast between the human and the Iron Ranger, the honor system still intact, even with the suggestion that’s its a little tattered. I want to thank you for taking us here. Sending you love love love.

  5. jennifer vanderheyden

    I agree with what the others have said…a very powerful poem that could be extended into a series. I also like Martha’s comments about working in more references to the interloper. There are so many aspects and consequences of the pandemic, and this is a vital one to write about. Some of my favorite lines:

    “History is like that. Is

    that why we’re drawn to reenactments?

    Those have been canceled until further notice”

    I see this tying in with the reference at the end to graves not visited. Thanks so much for this.

  6. Robert Vaughan

    What I love and admire about your writing, Sara, is how you thread so many items into one provocative poem- history, law, objects around us, signs, science, health and the weaving is spun like a web, drawing the reader closer and closer to this muddled, complex topic. You never soapbox, which is so wise and crafty of you. Such duality in the inner/outer (ness?) of this. Especially setting this piece against the backdrop of your heading: open park/ pandemic deaths. Brilliance!

  7. Suzanne van de Velde

    Sara – This piece yields new riches with each reading. For me, the energy coalesces with “I looked into the job once,” and my suggestion would be to keep moving deeper into the initimate, personal connection, and let the social justice elements rise and flow from within that deep vein.

    just not that observant anymore. It’s
    expensive to tithe endlessly to nothing”

    Wonderful, seemingly off-hand comment peels back the sense of betrayal and loss.
    Beautiful draft. Thank you!

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