Picking my way through the swamp
Stomping in useless suede cloth boots
Sand spurs sticking to tights
Shouting to warn unbrumating snakes
All for the picture
And the metaphor
Of seeing the palm tree
Juxtaposed with the Queen Anne’s Lace
But by the time I hike into the
Out of control greens and browns
Hang up my guitar for the arty effect
The photo just isn’t there
At least not by phone camera
That I swear has no zoom-in
The sun hovers between East and South
Washing out the white flowers
If I move forward
The deep swamp will suck me down
It’s not really evil
Just has a sense of humor
And I seem to be the only one fascinated
With its loveliness
So I make it two photos
But the poem in my mind
Is gone
The metaphor was
The convergence of seasons
Palm tree
That never lost its greenery
Because of the warm winter
Queen Anne’s Lace
So Philly and Jersey summer
From my youth
The only flowers
Besides the Sunflower
That I’d occasionally see
In the concrete city
North meets South
Spring meets Summer
No, better go
Before the Water Moccasins
Slither over
And in May
The gators walk all day
Looking to mate
Bad enough a Blue Jay
Almost crashed into me
On my elliptical
This morning, outside
Pedaling to
Of all tunes

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGES: My guitar on the swamp palm tree and quasi-invisible Queen Anne’s Lace


Queen Anne's Lace in May with arrow



Through two decades

A dead Live Oak

Stood upright

Perch for families

Of Florida Black Vultures

What sights I’ve seen

On that stage

Young buzzards courting

Males competing for

The belle of the bough

Married couple kissing

Passing food between beaks

Here they are with baby

Showing him how to perch

And search

For newly-made swamp corpses

Other days watching them

Wings outspread

Drying out stormy feathers

One day the mom and dad gone

Baby sat for three days

Finally the smaller one returned

Maybe dad creamed by a car

While cleaning up the road kill

In the middle of city streets

Then the other day

A muffled crash in the swamp

Perch finally fell

And here I go in pursuit of my “art”

Worrying about Water Moccasins

And other snakes

As I wade through the grass

Snap, snap

On smart phone

That does no justice

To the thumbnails of Nature

Suddenly recalling last week

Vulture in my yard

Broken wing

Hopping around

Looking for a way out

I opened the gate and tried shooing him

But he didn’t get it

He did find a pile of tables and plants

Climbed up over the fence

Relieved he escaped

Yet what are the chances

A bird will live safely

With a damaged wing



Life yet death symbols for me

And I recall sitting under

Another Live Oak

Many years ago

And it splitting

For no good reason

Phone ringing, me running

My mother’s voice funereal

My favorite uncle died

The trees never lie

But do I think a tree

Can actually be

A psychopomp?

Birds play that role for me

But would a bird

Lead a bird

To the afterlife

Or does the tree’s soul

Take control?

After all

They were friends for so many years…

FL Black Vulture on my swamp perch

© 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGES: Live Oak perch fallen in my swamp and FL Black Vulture on the perch in my swamp




Air potatoes in indistinct moonlight

Like modern Winchcombe Grotesques

Fortifying the overgrowth of summer vines

Chills in the heat, dancing along my spine

Monstrous night

Dogs plastered to the fence

Growling at an undone rope

A rope unwound

Hanging on a spindly tree

Gulf Coast wind winding up to

A shrieking Banshee force

Is it the 3 a.m. heart attack

Or a dream

Can’t recall rolling out of bed

Sliding through the glass door

Suddenly soaking suede cloth boots

I think, Well, that feels real

Surreal similarity of when I was four

High on my uncle’s shoulders

Defying the Atlantic Ocean

Then slapped by a wave


But still breathing

Under the sea


Well, this is it

Then feeling him find me

Scoop me up

Carry me back to Atlantic City sounds

Of ice cream men walking the beach

Of children shouting, alive and laughing

All a blank after that, like now

And I fall on sleeping red-ant villages

On the beach of my back yard

Mosquitoes glued to skin welting up

My smallest dog jumps onto my back

As if we’re in bed

And suddenly my head

Clears in the darkness

Despite humidity and drizzle

It’s real, I rise

Clap my hands demanding the dogs to follow

Maybe they, as nocturnals, belong here

But no place for me

At three

In the unearthly morning

Of moon madness

Brought on, I surmise

From OD-ing on chamomile tea

And vomit-smelling valerian drops

All in the name of at least

A good two hours sleep

But back in the cool air conditioned bed

Insomniac thoughts reverberate in my head

How’d I get there without remembering

And, most importantly

Who hung that freaking rope

Who hung on it…



© 2017 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGES: Rope in my swamp, medieval Winchcombe Grotesque

winchcombe grotesques



(#THROWBACKTHURSDAY:  wrote this 2 years ago and just noticed that the sign is gone.  What does it mean?  Sold? Who’d buy a swamp in Florida anyway?)


How can one sell my swamp

Splendid marsh oozing with pomp

The life seen through my fence

Is being shown as a pretense

A home for Sand Hill Cranes

Coons and possums shelter from the rains

Crows, vultures and critters of every kind

What habitat will they now be consigned

Florida gators looking for mates in May

Swarming dragonflies in turquoise play

Trees so thick, water sensed but unseen

Palms and Oaks add to the brown and green

Despite living in a tiny mobile home

I feel lucky having a private place to roam

The swamp duplicated in my photos and poetry

Reflects my esteem for the lovely congruity

Without it there will be no tranquility

How can I bear to live with no stability

The night sky grounds me as the swamp does by day

For sure I must consider moving away

If I lean against the sign it may fall

But what good a useless tactic that will merely stall

The need for others to populate every grassy blade

Life as I loved it is ending, I’m afraid…


© 2015 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)




Severe cabin fever

In today’s heat and humidity

Out of sorts

No fun in the yard

Don’t have a pool

Don’t want to drive

Don’t like TV

Don’t want to play my ukulele

So jumped the fence

Into the swamp

Like playing hooky

From school

Roamed the edges

Steeling myself to enter

But hey

It’s May

The merry month

Of gator mating

And the snakes are already

Sidewinding around the outer edges

Of my yard

What to do?

I study the unrelenting greenery

You can see my house plant

Of Sansevieria trifasciata

Also called Mother-in-law tongue

(Hmmm, why not Father-in-law tongue?)

That I ditched because

The dogs ate it and got sick

Mother Nature welcomed them

Made them stronger and larger

Glad someone loves them

There are white blossoms on the upper bushes

Life, although a bit out of control

Is rampantly joyous

So I ask myself:

Upset with life?


What’s wrong with me?

I am so lucky to be here

Walking in hot sun and damp air

I hear ambulance sirens

My darling dogs howl

And that is the reality check I heed

To tamp down my greed

For all the things I do not need

In my life…


© 2016 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGE: edge of my swamp





Back yard

Dogs gleefully hunting

Digging for tree frogs

From the swamp


High pitched screaming

Unidentifiable animal

Expecting the dogs to bark

I see that they silently

Look through

Wire fence spaces

Something is being killed

I want to stop it

I want to save it

But the dogs

Respectfully honor

Both predator and prey

Understanding the circle of life

The food chain

I go into the house without them

Soothing myself with the ukulele

Air conditioner thankfully covering up

The discordant music of death…


© 2016 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)




Palm tree in the fog

Swamp sentinel beyond my fence

A tree since ancient times

Starring in its own mythology

Symbol in the birth of religions

Formerly centered in deserts

Oasis accoutrement

Palms gaining superstitious status

In different parts of the world

Spreading from countries and across the sea

Dried palm for long life

Retaining its leaves

Even after death

A reminder that the past

Is always a part of us

Place a cross of its leaves

On a table during

Raging storms

And lightning will be averted

In Thailand, two palms

Whose names mean

Forsaken and Affliction

Are never grown in a house compound

Sympathetic magic must be avoided

I look at my

Palm tree in the fog

And suddenly feel sure

It is not a swamp sentinel

Forbidding me to enter

But the complete opposite

Guarding me from the

Dangers of the swamp

Allowing frogs and tortoises

Cranes and tiny birds

To grace my yard

But never gators

Or snakes

To cross that line

Into my life

Yes, I do believe

The beautiful and forever palm

Is my gatekeeper…


© 2016 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)




Something about playing

Outdoor ukulele

Unrestricted acoustics

Swamp on one side

Woods on another

Reverse osmosis pumping

Gurgling water

Birds in trees

Dogs in paw-dug sandy holes

Mosquitoes nipping

(Mosquitoes in January?)

Breeze duet-ing as it strums the trees

Something about the beautiful sun

Shining on it all

As my voice

Calls out

To you…



© 2016 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

IMAGE: My tenor ukulele



How far I’ve come

From South Philly

To the bayou

Who would have thought a

Relentless cement upbringing

Could produce a swampy old woman

Able to move through the unruly floratam

Twisting boot heels in sand

Skeeving leeches

Or were they alien life forms?

Standing up to a Rottweiler

Staring me down

Because he’s taller

Pedaling on an elliptical

Outside in 100 percent humidity

In 95 degree temps

Walking under Live Oaks in lightning

Extricating a wild woodpecker from my hair

Discussing murder with decimating crows

Growing and eating more and more

Luscious red cayennes like

A dragon in training

Plunking a ukulele

While singing like Yoko

On a bad day

Because only the dogs and birds

Only the leeches and mosquitoes

Only the clouds and sun

Only the earth and water

Are there to hear and see me

Crazy old

Gypsy woman

Stomping around

Yet still wondering how to

Right the world

How full-circle I’ve come

© 2015 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)