I go on blinking in your perpetual spring light. You have made the eyes I look through.
The first time I climbed onto my parent’s roof I did it because the Everglades were on fire. The windows in my sister’s room were the kind that cranked open. If you popped out the screens, they became kid-size doors. One sat on a small ledge, from which I crawled up the sloped Spanish tile to the house’s apex. From there, I could see the western horizon, bathed in orange and black light. The air smelled wintry, dried up, dehydrated. Despite the flames, the air was cold. I felt like a logger tied to the top of a pine tree. On one end, I saw where civilization began, a thin line of water, and on the other, where it ended, a proscenium of smoke. It was easy, caught in the middle, inside the circumstance of height, to mistake myself as the protagonist. Miami is pockmarked with tall residential buildings and houses situated on bay, ocean, river, canal. If Miami were an architectural feature it would be a balcony. One thing architects never screw up here is the view. It’s the view that sells the property. It’s the gazing that makes a Miamian. Look down at the water. Look up at the billboard. You can tell which parts of Miami are real because no one is asking you to look at them. Map which ways the balconies in Miami face and then walk in the opposite direction.
If we’re going to throw a party in Miami, it should be endless. It should be an industry. The companies should have names that tell us what kind of party it will be: Imperial, Premier, Continental, Essence, Tip Top, Creative Edge. All the waiters should be male and impossibly gorgeous. They should be hired from modeling agencies. This beauty should be an unsustainable bubble made sustainable by the constant, unnoticeable replacement of faces. So few of these models should make it as models. Most of them should get absorbed into the service industry that they must have believed, early on, was their means and not their ends. The fifty-something bartenders at hotels on Miami Beach should all be former models and by being still gorgeous should not feel former at all. Modeling should be like a sunset inside the Arctic circle. Some models should start landscape design companies. Some should get into real estate, where they’ll become the models for model homes. Some should make the jump to New York or Los Angeles and be lost forever, like 19th century sons who went off to sea. At first, the sea should be a path, and then the sea should be your home. All land should be island. All landings should be tidal, pauses in the current, hallucinations before the momentum rips you back into the arms of the sea.
Don’t sing about your city, leave it in peace.
-Carlos Drummond de Andrade
In Florida, I don’t trust the sky unless it’s raining. When I’m elsewhere and it’s raining, I miss the rain here. Non-Florida rain to Florida rain is like skim milk to whole milk. The rain here is denser. If you weighed it, it would be heavier. It rarely falls at an angle. It drops straight down as if retiring after years of being rain somewhere else. Florida rain doesn’t belabor its existence. It drops, and the clouds pack up and fly off. They don’t hang around all day graying the air and providing nothing. Every morning, the earth is divided. The land is one place. The water is the other. Instead of despairing of the division, a cloud gathers and traverses and expends itself completely, knowing that tomorrow, it will just have to do it again, and the day after as well. It must be so exhausting to be a cloud. To be, by definition, a creature who can never land, can never be one thing or the other. Maybe that’s why they take on the shapes of things they can never understand. As a kid, I sat in the window seat, anxiously awaiting when the plane would slice into a gigantic cloud. What would be inside? What room was the husk concealing? Only to find out, over and over, there was no room, only more husk. Drawing closer to a cloud is like attempting to divide your way to zero. Loving a city is the exact same thing.
P. Scott Cunningham is the author of Ya Te Veo (University of Arkansas Press, 2018), selected by Billy Collins for the Miller Williams Poetry Series. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Harvard Review, POETRY, The Awl, A Public Space, RHINO, Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, Monocle, and The Guardian. He lives in Miami, FL, where he serves as the director of the O, Miami Poetry Festival and the editor of Jai-Alai Books.