Addison Mizner In The Swamps

 

What God has put asunder, I have joined together.

He chuckles at this somewhat self-consciously,

As he has remained assiduously unmarried

For some fifty-plus years—ah, but his clientele,

Now that is a different matter all together;

Many of them have stepped off to the altar

Twice or thrice, some even more,

These wives pro tem of no more importance

Than the mounted heads of game animals

Or country-club doubles trophies displayed in the great rooms

Of the Sin Cuidado and Villa Tranquilla-issue Moorish bastardizations

They have commissioned, gathering dust and faded by afternoon sunshine

Until such time they are relegated to a closet or basement corner,

Replaced by something even larger and shinier.

 

It is such desire, which cannot be slaked

By any amount of gold-plating or platinum-blonding

(As he told one contractor bemoaning the cost and effort required

To shoe-horn in cornices and cupolas into places they were never intended,

Listen, these types are never happy unless something costs

A lot more than it is supposed to) which has made him a very wealthy man, indeed,

And even if it is pointed out to him,

As one architect visiting from a staid and stolid Boston firm noted coolly,

That the most striking characteristic of these vaguely Iberian grotesqueries,

With their vaulted cathedral ceilings and open-prairie floor plans,

Is the impossibility to cool them in the ninety-degree dawn of August

Or heat them during the all too frequent cold snaps,

He will simply shrug and say,

Gesturing with arms spread wide and palms upward,

Like a man releasing a pair of doves,

I only give the customer what they want,

And they are first, second, and last all about the façade.

 

It is not, however, his effort to turn all of Florida’s East Coast

Into a fitting movie set for the stories of Don Juan or El Cid

Which inspires him to utter his inversion of the marital vow.

He has moved beyond being a mere designer;

He is a man of substance, a builder in the larger, cosmic sense,

And so he is here, in this sticky, sweltering venue

Which disappointed Spaniards named after a rat’s oral cavity,

To make a new Venice, complete with electric gondolas,

Not to mention cloisters that would put any in the Old World to shame,

Gesturing, bellowing, and cajoling, a Prospero of sawhorses and steamshovels,

As displaced Seminoles and colored laborers sweat and swear and stumble

As they dredge swamps and hack down stumpy mangroves

In order to achieve his vision and supplement his bottom line

By arm-twisting the caprices of drought and hurricane

To serve the pricier whims of a gaggle of DuPonts and Wanamakers.

It’s not that I don’t believe in a higher power, he will demur,

I’m simply not averse to some slight enhancement of His plans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Addison Mizner In The Swamps

  1. I love the tone here wavering among sad, bitter, and satirical. I had two laugh out-louds: one at your extended description of trophy wives and the other at:
    “And so he is here, in this sticky, sweltering venue
    Which disappointed Spaniards named after a rat’s oral cavity,
    To make a new Venice, complete with electric gondolas,”
    What a story! It explores the continuing crimes of imperialism, including the misuse of land, the capitalizing on and colonizing of women and natives, and the enriching of the ruling classes. You’ve got it all! Fine allusions to the operatic sets of El Cid and the opera Don Juan!

  2. You set the scene for another epic of human folly. I thought the final stanza particularly excellent in flow and satire, especially the final lines, but my favourite thing is the reference to Prospero, in mad magical frenzy.

  3. Like a man releasing a pair of doves,

    I only give the customer what they want,

    And they are first, second, and last all about the façade.

    So much sad, sad truth in the whole piece.

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