Catherine Esposito Prescott
Arrowroot: A Tale
Before humans, coontie covered the earth—its roots both poison and medicine. The Calusa and Timucuan used the roots to make bread, which became Seminole bread—and where Seminoles saw bread, white man saw even more. Native populations were decimated in the hunger to process the root, which digests easily & heals sore gums and teeth. If eaten unprocessed, however, it's lethal. The root may be named after the Caribbean Arawak's phrase aru-aru, which means meal of meals—or from its power to draw out poison (as in from poison arrows). The coontie has many stories, but not all of them translate. Maybe we should ask the atala butterfly? Once thought extinct, the atala resurfaced on a Florida coontie. Larval babies bobbed under its stiff, feathered leaves, making the plant the butterfly's chosen midwife. Larvae ingested the coontie's toxins and, when hatched, their blue wings turned bright like police-car sirens, and deadly. Their red bellies and metallic tail lights now fill the night sky with neon script. Considered illegal blue diamonds for collectors—desirable, unattainable—even the stories they sign to the wind, to the palmettos, to the seagrass, and to the long-fingered leaves of the coontie fade come morning.
Mamey Sapote: A Tale
Native to Mexico, the mamey sapote looks like a large almond with peach fuzz. Grown tight to the tree's thick branches, it takes a year to move from flower to fruit and another to grow to picking size. You know it's ripe when the skin slides back exposing a lightening-bolt of red-orange flesh, which is plush and yields to the touch. Tender, it slips off the knife into mouths like ice cream. Mamey, mamá, its seeds hold the secret of youth. It is rumored that the fruit sustained Cortés and his army on their hungry march some 700 miles from Mexico City to Honduras. After Cortés married off his mistress and translator, after he killed a friend thought ripe for insurrection, the musicians went missing. Dulcimer strings electrified in the tropical sun, humidity rusted the clarion overnight, and villagers ran deep into the jungle taking stocks of grain or burning them in heaps. If you fed the army, they took everything. If you didn't, they killed you and took everything, too. Gold comes in many forms, and the army took them all—a role the tree never imagined, busy seeking nutrients from rain and soil, busy finding bees to pollinate its slow-growing fruit. As the army advanced, you can picture the mamey sapote tree waving her many-fingered leaf wheels around her fruits and thinking, Oh no, not my babies, not for this, not for them.
Catherine Esposito Prescott is the author of the chapbooks Maria Sings and The Living Ruin. Recent poems have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Flyway, MiPOesias, Pleiades, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, South Florida Poetry Journal and TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, as well as the anthologies 99 Poets for the 99 Percent and The Orison Anthology. Prescott earned an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. She is a co-founder of SWWIM, which curates a reading series in Miami Beach and publishes the online literary journal SWWIM Every Day.