Moccasin Springs

Moccasin Springs
Owl Moon/Photo by Jon Gerlach

A Florida Epoch

By Bucky McMahon

It was fifty rodeos ago boys
The night I met the Terrible Moss Lady
Right here at Moccasin Springs
That big blond beach boy the sun
Had twirled our darlin Earth
In her pretty peasant skirt
Of blues and greens and browns
Round to night yet again
And we punk-ass kids
We was astonished
To be camping out in it
Day and night
Dark and light
Good and evil
Life and death
The freakin’ Manicheanism of it all
Drove our young brains like dynamos
We were psychically amplified
Twixt the poles of powerful paradoxes
Leastways that’s how I remember it
What’s a kid anyhow
But a Little League Ulysses
Lashed to the mast
Of the spinning world
As the Sirens sing
Of unbearable beauty
And intolerable terror
You hear it scouts?
Neath the crickets and cicadas
And the near-concussive roar
Of consciousness
The melancholy melody of the moment
Lost as soon as known?
As for us back when
Neither good boys nor bad
We lucky campers
Not terribly kind I’m afraid
But sheltered and pampered
Young Americans of the Pax Americana
Children of victorious warriors
Survivors of Armageddon anyway
Beneficiaries of the Bomb for fucksake
And important clients
Of the Sears catalogue Santa Claus
You mightn’t ‘ve known it for the bitchin’
But we were mightily pleased
By the sweet particularities
Of our soft suburban lives
Of sports and pools and sandwiches
Our mothers made us
Yet et in Arcadia ego boys
The swindle of death
Was just then sinking in
Breeding cruelty and cynicism and monsters
Bug-eyed bat-eared thin-skinned
Prone to haunted dreams
Of minuteness and immensity
Of eternity and infinity
Practically from infancy
I was an especially attuned antenna
For the uncanny thing
That stalked us
Crouched in futurity
Bent on unbeing us
Into preposterous nothingness
That night round the campfire
Drunk on gusty woodsmoke
And the sparkly swift epiphanic darkness
We challenged the stars
To launch alien ships of oozing octopods
Or the gleaming steel robots
From “The Day the Earth Stood Still”
Klaatu barada nikto
We monkey-boys mocked
Hunkered beneath the ancestral canopy
The holy trees themselves
Hulked companionably on all sides
Big ole live oaks draped with Spanish moss
That danced with the autumn wind
The harvest wind
Of back to school
New clothes new pens
New selves (but old friends)
Each gray tress a tell-tale
Pointing to where we longed to go
Whispering hurry hurry!
But time was on our side
Time was our ride
And our bride
We young pilots of the planet
Sailing the starry night
Towards paradise
Our long lonely crossing
From the lee shore of oblivion
Our childish decade of exile
From kissing
From the lips and the nipples
Of moist mammalian commingling
Was ending or nearly
Eros had been sighted on the horizon!
Bottles had been spun
Hearts lost and won
With the touching of tongues
Yummy on bubblegum pink lipstick
Surely imponderable pleasures
And inter-galactic treasures awaited
Us would-be swordsmen
Or so we dreamed
In our hallowed innocence
Not that it hasn’t all come true
In its way boys in its way

Shh! Quiet dammit! You hear that?
Probably just a possum
Greasin’ through the rubbish
Or maybe a last starving panther
Or a pack of super-intelligent
Plotting to steal our S’mores!
You hear it? Listen!
Don’t mean to scare you boys
But that rustling sound?
That creeping around?
Could be something old and evil
Unclean! The priests are always saying
In the movies anyway
But let me ask you this
What if evil accrues like mildew
And a vengeful ergotism gets into everything
When everything is dirty with death?
Well indeed it do boys
Indeed it do
Mr. Clean is a powerful god
But he can’t disinfect this mess
This obscene Anthropocene
Pollution produced habitat reduced
Sixth Extinction
A wave of dying
That has yet to reach us
Towers and crests
And casts its shadow over us
Stout as we are young scouts
We’re surrounded by invisible hunger
And hunger has always been Her mother
I’m talking about the Terrible Moss Lady!
I sing her boys
Because I know her some
Know her like me own dead Mum
The story is so old
So often told
How every wood hides its killer crone
Mother Nature’s Child full grown
Into bushwhacking executioner
Giant hags on backwards chicken feet
Bush grandmothers hexing and vexing
Holzfraulein of the Black Forest
Hansel and Gretel’s witch
A cannibal in the strudel
Hallucinations of hunger?
Man is half angel half insatiable tube
It’s all about the food boys
Always has been
Watch your groceries!
When the larder runs low
No mo Bogo boyos
Just nature red in tooth and claw
With her implacable law
Of eat or be eaten
Summons she her dead-eye sheriff
Gunning for hubris and gluttony
And plumb dumbfuckness
Like billionaires bunkering for the end
The Greeks called her Nemesis
Code name: Adastreia
“The Inescapable”
Daughter of Necessity
Ole Miz Has-to-be
You’re gonna meet her one day
Might be tonight!
Why? You ask why!
Just on accounta boys On accounta something dire and drear
Warped and woofed into the tapestry
Of visible and invisible reality
Complications of creation
Parts that don’t work right
Not by any human light
Bits that don’t fit
What Zoroaster called the Shards
Subatomic sandspurs
Random cancers
Arsenic in the cosmic cake-mix
Things just flat fucked up
Like parasitic wasps
Whose lusty larvae eat their hosts alive
Intelligent Design?
Darwin didn’t think so
More diabolical than kind
It’s a spikey place
The Universe
Shit makes us so jumpy
We can’t get properly organized
To really fix anything
Permanent like
Amidst the desperate grasping
For impossible immortality
I’m making excuses boys
Don’t da bibble say
Short is the span
Of woman-born man
Who fleeth as it were
A shadow
You ever feel it boys
Like an ill-wind
Blowing from the precipice
Of the abyss of the eternal
The pit with the monster in it?
Empusa she’s sometimes called
She who rushes out
From darkened places
To snatch the breath of children
Wives’ tales
Campfire talk
Moss Lady!
Bullshit you say!
But I’ve also heard
She was just a sad girl
Local girl
Trapped between momma’s bong
And a step King Kong
Bullied at school
For her shyness
And off brand fashions
Traumatized and ostracized
Hangin with a rough crowd
Drink fuck cry
Repeat seventh grade
Then the baby Jesus
Surrendered to foster care
Always one McPaycheck
From despair
Turds of rotten fate
Dropping through the mail slot
Bills and bounced checks
And arrest warrants
For failure to pay
The court costs
Of a broken taillight
Kicked in by her asshole boyfriend
When she tried to leave him
Finally driven mad
By grief and lack of love
And poverty
Which is hunger
Last seen fleeing into these woods
By that parasitic alcoholic
POSSLQ who beat her
So the newspapers said
Too late to love her now
Though lovely and lovable she was
In her way in her day
I shoulda married her!
Metaphorically anyway
I was just a kid (later a drunken wastrel)
Some folks say and I believe em
She still stalks In mossy camouflage
This sprawly Walmart wasteland
Of backed-up septic tanks
And blue-green algae pools
“Moccasin Estates” my ass!
Furious at the loveless world
Hungry to exact revenge
On our terracidal gender
Wouldn’t worry too much boys
Maybe she can’t find us here
Now that here is nowhere special

But damn boys!
You shoulda seen this place
Back when Moccasin Springs
Was discovered by us
And the world was green
As you tramped through the woods
Always you heard
The shrieks of delighted girls
Like jungle birds they were
Hippie goddesses
And Daisy Duke duchesses
Frolicked in consort with
Their bearded guru dudes
And varsity Samsons who
Strutted their derring-do
One fearless high diver wore
A vest of pop-top chainmail
A real rustic Sir Dwayne!
Some ballsy bravos
Had fashioned a ladder
To the top of that tallest oak
Rotten lumber on rusty nails
Driven by the dare
Of that lichen-encrusted
Giant dinosaur of a tree
Aim for the blue-eyed spring below
Go boy go!
Cross your heart and cross your feet
To protect the family jewels!
You went in deep boys
Deep and cold
And rose with the champagne bubbles
Of your stunning impact
Prouder’n hell
A rope swing too
For the less arboreal
Lofted you plenty high
For cannonballs and jackknives
Or happy little pantomimes of dying
Flying through the summer air
Big Moc Spring flowed into Little Moc
Whose crystal outflow fed
The mighty gator-y Wakulla
And twixt the two
Lay the legendary swim-thru
If your lungs and ears
Could stand the chilly deep
You could sneak a peek
Into the tunnel and feel the flow
Pouring out of the bountiful earth
Amongst the Clovis points
And mastodon teeth
Littering the limestone floor
Lay the bones of some
Of the county’s bravest
And dumbest boys
Or so the legend goes
Hell no I never tried it
I was just a timid heart
And a pair of big eyes
The better to see the Moss Lady!

Such was our Boys Own paradise
The dive the swing the swim-thru
A trio of testosterone trials
We trampled the fragile spring
Biota to get to
Impossible to resist
That prehistoric oasis
The ancient poets knew the spring
As an elemental erogenous zone
Locus Amoenus
The “good place”
Population two:
The regenerating water
Beside the refreshing shade
The moan of reeds in the breeze
Natural comfort and beauty and ease
As a tender bathing girl
Naked and vulnerable
And watching from the trees
Something hairy and goatish
Priapic and leering
Who’s one-pronged thought is
I gotta get me some of that!
The cast assembled
The universal drama ensued:
The spring sprung
And Pan pursued
Pardon my pastoral minstrelsy
But boys it’s a mighty metaphor
From the manly mind
Of the ancient mythmaker
Of rape and panic at the core of things
All matter still flinching
From the Big Bang
Everything ejaculating outward
Like the spring
The welling omphalos atremble
With surface tension
And imminent change
And trillions upon trillions of births
Ourselves the froth of the tideline
Of lucky gene streams
The seas rise the seas recede
Ice on ice off
Till Moccasin Springs is a watering hole
For giant beavers and great dire wolves
Bison and sloths and cats that eat ‘em
Carnivorous bloodbaths mark the crossroads
And splatter patterns ring the springs
Then fuzzy little sapiens creep
Out from everywhere
Over the Bering land bridge
South bound armed and dangerous
Smart and social and successful
Eating all the megafauna
Of Moccasin Springs
The Quaternary Extinction Event
Naught left but the best of the best
The swiftest and the wariest
Then the hunters in turn hunted
By gold crazy conquistadores
Soldiers and slavers
And Ku Klux crackers
A hundred years of hardscrabble living
With the skeeters and the gators
Lots of country know how
But never two cents to rub together
Not much leisure and hardly any Plato
Think of it boys
After all of history
After predator and prey
After mayhem and murder
We were the ones
We Boomer kids
Who had the springs
Just for fun
Watusi-ing in the sun
To a Golden Age of Music
Millions of us Beach Monkeys
At a thousand springs
Flower Power Peaceniks et alia
Running up a huge party tab
Loving the world
But not enough to save it
Instead we fucking ate it
Along with a whole lotta Pina Coladas
We sucked down the aquifer
And lost Moccasin Springs
She became that sump yonder
With the chain link fence around Her
A hydrological catastrophe
An unforgivable aesthetic sin
What can I say?
Biomes will be biomes
Sorry boys
Maybe you can fix Her
Maybe Locus Amoenus
Ain’t quite finished
But nothing stays nothing holds
Time rolls space unfolds
Yet human history’s a squeeze play
Go on and Google it
I see you fiddling with your phones
Trip Advisor’ll tell you:
The Nymphs are departed

But not the Moss Lady!
Shall I call her to our fire?
It’s this old scoutmaster’s only trick
So just imagine this:
A Friday afternoon
Pack of sixth-graders
By a week of school
Home to raid the fridge
Then bolting out again
We pulled the ole double-spend-the-night
Switcheroo times two times two
We’d be without adult supervision
Dude all night
For like the first time evah
Under a pumpkin-colored sky
We mounted beloved bikes yahooing
Pedaling out of the hood
West across the highway
To the sandy track
Into the dark woods
The mighty hammock
Of Moccasin Springs
We were not at all afraid
Patrol boys at St Paul’s
We fancied ourselves double agents
Dressed in fascist khaki
But sworn to chaos
Enemies of all pieties and proprieties
Little pop-drunk satyrs
In the train of Dionysus
Mere nippers at the heel of the questing beast
Which we hoped would be afoot
That night at Moccasin Springs
We talked some shit boys I tell you
Around that campfire
Careening beyond reason and convulsing
With mutual understanding
Of some now unknowable joke
I sing of the laughter
Native to the noogie-punching
Spittle-bubble blowing
Grody boys that we were
Upon us the Pentecostal flames
Of cosmic comedy descended
Encompassed us
And throttled us
As joke by joke we jawed our way
Toward some Land of Cockaigne
Of adult drunkenness
And lubricious debauchery
We only dimly imagined
And that mostly wrongly
A lawless bicycle gang
Hecks Angels
Drifting through our doggy days
In idle compulsion
Entertainment to entertainment
Always dirty and sweating
From tackle-loco and wrestling
And fighting with sticks
Till somebody got hurt
Phew! The older boys would sniff
You morons should consider deodorant!
Yet we trusted nature’s pact
That our cruddy pubescence
Would metamorphosize
With the rising tide of love
Into something tolerably adorable
We were tantalized
And infantilized
By the budding breasts
Of our alter-egos
In button-up white blouses
And tartan skirts
The blessed girls of St. Pauls
The lads from Liverpool were dead right
We wanted to hold their hands
My Madge’s palm was damp
The shock of contact
Like handling an electric eel!
She called me a “pretty neat dancer”
A compliment I still hold the highest
After all these years
Though the gang howled derision
The yin and yang the yoni and lingam
The Hieros Gamos and
The Churning of the Milky Ocean
The grand Tantra of incarnated matter
We mocked it all by the fire
Traitors to gentle Love
And I was the worst of us
Always knowing better how to be
Than I ever was
Boys I descend from a long line
Of cowardly clowns
I knew the fool’s gambit in my bones
How vulgarity inspired hilarity
In the bigger boys especially
Physically viable yet socially pathetic
And already aggrieved by their virginity
Born quiet and brooding and weak
Feeling as if I had somehow sneaked
‘Tween being and nothingness
Like a thief
I saw no better way to survive
When I opened my eyes to my tribe
Save through clowning
So I rose in our pimply ranks
As a poetaster of smut
Abject turns of phrase
Parsed into iambic pentameter
For the bottomless market
Of the hateful and dull
Around the campfire
At Moccasin Springs
Out of fear and ignorance and lust
Our profanations
Of the mysteries of copulation
Our invocations
Of country matters–
The P-word seductively furred
But the C-word more blunt
Connoting an absolute absence
Within the circular muscle
Pink and floriate
The Chimera in their underwear
Through which we had so recently been extruded
Like links of wailing purple sausage
That word so enticed and deranged us
We were practically humping the air
Like young dogs
The C-word was Queen
We were chanting it
That’s what you are!
No you are!
No you!
We bad bad boys
Quacking like idiot fuck-a-ducks
Calling to camp the Moss Lady!

But first we enjoyed our feast
Yeah boy we had meat
Pilfered wieners charring on sticks
You know the ancient gods
Were greedy for their portion of the beast
And hovered above the fire
Snorting the greasy smoke
Like it was coke
The gods loved our prattle as well
Our syllables of praise
Weren’t picky feeders either
But swam in the air
Like giant invisible koi
Nibbling the platitudinous
Vibrations as they rose
But what was in our Tiger Beat pantheon
Our sci-fi and our sit-coms?
Our dithyrambic pop songs?
Nada mucho muchachos
We instinctively loathed the fishy
Nazarene fish-oil salesman
And His Daddio
The Invisible Authoritarian Asshole
All the churchy rites and the rituals
Dry as dust to dust
We were otherwise woefully ill-educated
About ourselves as highly organized
Electro-chemical fields
Fantastically flickering an instant
In mutual hallucination
Then dispersing back to eternal chaos
The materialist view
Would’ve anyhow poorly served
Our assumption of Exceptionalism
But boys you cannot empty the sky
Of meaningful ghosts
Don’t try it
You won’t like it
We are as wedded to the symbolic
As mollusks to mother of pearl
I suppose we worshipped mirth
The Solar god within us
And the Green Queen of youth
Energy as eternal delight
We boys enacted the ancient rites
At the cinema of the flying sparks
In the strobing dark
We were electrified
Having the time of our lives

Then something roared
And somebody screamed
And we just scattered
In animal panic
Every kid for himself
Like little varmints
Chased by the Chihuahuas of Hell
You have no idea how fast you are
How agile you are
Until you run for your life
In the woods
In the dark
We are part monkey boys
And part weasel maybe
You get down near to all fours
And just git
Funny thing is
You don’t much mind
Fleeing while you’re fleeing
You’re thinking like prey
Which is hardly thinking at all
The desperation a sort of glory
The long elastic seconds euphoric
With a touch of relief that life
Having dropped all pretense
Was finally coming to kill you
Course it was just the older boys
Raiding our camp
Pranking us
Good one!
And I would be the last to know
Cornering like a cat
Bounding like a kangaroo rat
Kicking up turf
If not the finest hour of youth
Damn sure the fastest
Then the gong of concussion
As I head-butted a tree
Reality’s abrupt interruption
I spun and tripped and rolled
Into a water-filled sinkhole
Sprung up with a gasp
And just froze
Up on the bank gray on black
Lay a brute bull gator
The size of a recumbent ox
Still as a carved stone sarcophagus
Did it see me yet?
As I stared entranced
The nictitating eyelid winked
They say a gator can outrun a racehorse
In a sprint
They say!
Dogs and deer and careless boys
Their preferred prey
Would it launch from the bank
With a wiggle and a twitch
And eat me alive?
It was too much
Too much reptile for one young mammal
I had me a little psychotic break
Or so I still say
Said see you later mashed potato
To the world we think we know
With nowhere else possible to go
It seemed I slowly rose
And hovered above the mud
Tingling all over
As if somewhat indifferently
Being electrocuted
As if my whole body were a funnybone
Tapped by a titanic ballpeen
There are other worlds boys
And I was drifting into one of them
The inevitable frontier
Of fear unto death
Mama! I managed to gasp
As she came floating towards me
A shimmering figure of sparkling particles:
Moss Lady or Moss Girl!
She took my hands gently into her own
And stared long and deep into my eyes
Hers were the shattered blue
Of my favorite cat’s eye shooter
Her hair the burnished gold of sunrise
On a young surfer’s beach
She wore a purple paisley bandana
A peasant blouse and skirt
It was her aura that was green
Moss green
The most beautiful creature I had ever seen
A decade hence I would meet her double
Picking apples in the south of France
(And again blow my chance)
Ma jolie fille sans merci
She took my grubby hands in hers
My Mama my Madge my Sylvie girl
And leaned in close to whisper
You are loved
But do not love
And laughed and hated me
Dead eyes that withered my world
Ah boys boys boys
Of what else would a monster consist
But our own unlovingness?
She was every sweetheart
I would hurt in my runaway youth
From fear of the finality of choice
And laziness of soul I suppose
And delusions unseen and untold
Of self-absorbed sufficiency
And promised immortality
I thought I was a baby god
Don’t you?
Then the spirit girl moved
Inclined seductively upon and was suffused
Into that grim sarcophagal gator
And the terrible jaws
And the terrible eyes
Were the wizened flesh and skull
Of my Mom on her deathbed
Boys it’s tough to love a world
That kills our mothers
And then comes for us
But love it we must
To save it
And that’s the whole freakin story
Minus my hysterical tears
Cried for no one
There was no one there
And the boy I was
He never came back
From Moccasin Springs
But I see it’s very late
Boys you’ve been great
Thank ya vury much
Let’s get some rest
Tomorrow we rise early
Tomorrow we start to clean-up
This dump
Earn those merit badges


Snake in the Grass/Detail from painting by Bucky McMahon


Bucky McMahon writes, paints, and sculpts in Atlantic Beach, Florida. While studying Creative Writing with Jerome Stern and Janet Burroway at The Florida State University, he wrote a humor column, “Barmadillo,” for the Tallahassee Democrat. As a Contributing Editor for Esquire, and a Correspondent for Outside Magazine, he reported from many exotic and tragic locales around the world.  His feature stories have been anthologized in the Best American Writing series, for sports (twice) and travel. He is the author of Night Diver, a collection of adventure yarns and cartoons based on dreams.