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L I T T O R A L

Hildegard Ott Russell’s Spanish Limes

07/17/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

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Alongside Key West’s tradition of acclaimed writers-in-residence like Elizabeth Bishop and Wallace Stevens lies the output of obscure authors whose work met the world through small press and self-publishing ventures. We found this autographed copy of Hildegard Ott Russell’s 1964 Spanish Limes an’ I got ‘em Sweet at Bargain Books on Truman Avenue about two years ago, during one of that once-venerable bookseller’s restructurings of inventory that consistently result in a steeper pornography-to-poetry ratio.

The collection of 100 poems appears to have brought together more than 30 years of Russell’s previously published and new work. It includes a foreword by Florida Poet Laureate Vivian Yeiser Laramore Rader and six silhouette cuttings by Phoebe Hazelwood Morse. No press name is given and it is likely that Russell, a former teacher of creative writing at Key West High School, paid for the printing herself, expertly done by the Artman family at Florida Keys Star. Beneath its dust jacket, the sewn book is hardbound in green cloth, illustrated with the same Morse cutting. It is unknown how many were printed.

Russell’s title poem refers to the practice, still common today, of young boys selling bunches of Spanish limes which they’ve cut from trees around town. Known as ganip or canip in much of the Caribbean, the Spanish lime (Melicoccus bijugatus, seen on Ashe Street below), bears bunches of ripe fruit nearly the size of a ping-pong ball from July through September. The rigid green skin is typically cracked with the teeth to reveal the delicious sweet-sour pulp surrounding a single large pit. The trees, with silvery bark and thick, light green foliage, are among the largest in Key West.

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    Spanish Limes
    Hildegard Ott Russell

    Black boys are calling their limes,
    “Got ‘em sweet as honey of bees!”
    While St. Paul marks the hour with chimes.
    Black boys are calling their limes,
    Where men roll their accents in rhymes
    Under almond and flaming trees.
    Black boys are calling their limes,
    “Got ‘em sweet as honey of bees!”

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