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Love letters to South Florida: Poems about neighborhoods, in five lines

A girl holds a piece of paper.
O, Miami
Every April during National Poetry Month, O, Miami and WLRN celebrate South Florida with Zip Odes the city with interactive events to help people encounter a poem. This year marks the 9th year of WLRN and O, Miami’s Zip Ode campaign.

Every April we ask you to turn seemingly mundane everyday things into poetry. To transform your zip code into an occasion for verse — poems inspired by your neighborhood, their format determined by those five digits.

Like Alana Ashley, who wrote about her zip code 33130.

Little Havana cats,
y los viejos
love story written
in crumbs.

These five line poems are called Zip Odes. Each one recalls a moment or evokes a feeling that encapsulates all facets of life in South Florida.

Some of our favorites describe casual encounters with wildlife, from roosters to manatees — and even a crocodile named Chompy. Others transport us to the edge of the Everglades and an empty shoe store on 163rd Street in North Miami Beach. Many included lines of Spanish, invoking loving advice from abuela or remarking on todos los tíos jaywalking.

O, Miami believes poetry is an art of self-expression that should be accessible to everyone. Every April during National Poetry Month, O, Miami floods the city with interactive events to help people encounter a poem. This year marks the 9th year of WLRN and O, Miami’s Zip Ode campaign.

READ MORE: He helped us believe that Miami is the most poetic city in the world. Now he’s stepping down

Selected Zip Ode poets have been invited to read their work before a live audience at the Zip Odes Finale on April 24 at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. For more information, click here.

Here’s what inspired some of the poems we’ve highlighted so far this month.

'I fist bumped DJ Khaled'

Many many thanks
DJ Khalid for
he lost ball at

"That's right, the DJ Khaled, Grammy award winning hip hop producer who also happens to live in Miami Beach," said Karen Scheinberg. "My teenage son called me from school, he never calls me, so he's all excited."

It was 2022, and her son was at DASH, now DASH Design and Architecture High School. It's located in Miami's Design District right off of 2nd Avenue where Tory Burch, Thom Browne and Dior are right across the street.

Screenshot of hip hop producer DJ Khaled walking away from Design and Architecture High School in Miami after he returned a lost ball back to DASH students.
Courtesy of Karen Scheinberg
Screenshot of hip hop producer DJ Khaled walking away from Design and Architecture High School in Miami after he returned a lost ball back to DASH students.

Her son and his classmates had been playing in the school's courtyard when the ball went over the fence and rolled up to a Black Rolls Royce.

"DJ Khaled walked out of the car, grabbed the ball, tossed it back to the kids, and at this point, all the kids, their jaws are on the ground, right?"

The high schoolers recorded the moment on their phones. In the video, you can hear one teen yell, "No way! I fist bumped DJ Khaled, bro!"

"They're freaking out, they're all electrified, what is happening? Like they can't even believe it themselves," she said.

Seeing celebrities is par for the course in Miami, especially in the Design District. But interacting with them? That was a special moment. Scheinberg used her Zip Ode to thank DJ Khaled for giving these kids a moment they'll never forget.

"I mean, it's like the best thing that ever happened to the kids at the school at that time," she said.

The pink house

In North Bay Village, there sits a funky, Pepto Bismol-colored building where, instead of borrowing a cup of sugar, neighbors share XLR cables. The 50s era building is home to a cohort of creatives. There's a slew of musicians, ranging from DJs to rappers. There's a standup comedian downstairs and a TV writer in one unit.

A photo of Lido Village in North Bay Village.
Maria Sobrino
A photo of Lido Village in North Bay Village.

In Miami Dade, where everything is constantly in flux, Nick County, 40, has found longevity and community in his apartment building. County, which is his stage name, is also a musician and quickly connected with his neighbors. The 20-unit apartment sits among a spit of islands sandwiched between Miami proper and Miami Beach. They may be small, but they are mighty, he said.

It’s these people — and this building — that take shape in his Zip Ode, which has been selected as a spotlighted poem this year.

Pepto pink building
The lido village
Apartments filled with funny

"It's like a little family, and we look out for each other," he said. "It feels like home, it feels like everything I was ever looking for."

He likens the apartment layout to the 90s show, Melrose Place, with apartment units facing each other with a pool in the middle. County believes the layout fosters more interaction

On a more practical level, having a spectrum of people comes in handy.

"One time I had a fire. I was cooking something. There was a fire, like a grease fire," said County. "And out of nowhere, like I have two neighbors who are professional fire dancers. They came in with an extinguisher and put it out."

He remembers when he first moved in, one of the tenants had passed away. He watched as everyone gathered and grieved together. It was beautiful, he said.

"I'm neither young nor old now, I'd like to think," he said. "So, I hope that [my generation] can help kind of bridge that gap, and remind the younger generations … it's a really important thing to know your neighbors … and if you care about people, you can start right there, you know?"

Trying the local drip 

The first time Nicole Tallman ordered a colada, she didn’t know she was supposed to share it.

She had just moved to South Florida — to Boca Raton — from Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was 2006. The job that brought her to South Florida ended, but she decided to stay and took another at Miami Dade College.

A job as the director of internal communications at the Office of the College President landed her in downtown Miami. It was there she tried her first Cuban coffee in a cafe outside of Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus.

She wrote about the experience in her Zip Ode poem, which has been selected as one of this year’s spotlight poems.

The first time
I tried a
I didn’t know
to share.

Nicole Tallman seen drinking coffee from her Miami Dade College mug.
Courtesy of Nicole Tallman
Nicole Tallman seen drinking coffee from her Miami Dade College mug.

The colada, she recalled, came with a bunch of little white plastic cups. Confused why she was handed so many, she took one and handed the rest back to the person behind the counter and returned to her office.

She thought Cuban coffee was like any other espresso. She was unaware of its strength and sweetness.

“I just felt this huge rush of heat and I started to get super anxious and nervous and my heart’s beating really fast,” she said. “I was starting to panic because it was a really strong sensation.”

Sweating, she dashed into her boss’ office. “Are you okay?” she recalled him saying. No, she told him, something’s really wrong, but she didn’t know what. “I don’t know. I just started drinking coffee," she told him.

“And he looks at me and he said, ‘What kind of coffee?’”

Her boss was surprised to learn she drank the whole colada. He pulled a snack from his cabinet and gave it to her.

“It took me a while to come down after that,” she said. “Lesson learned.”

Now Tallman knows a colada is communal. She takes the little cups. It’s become part of her routine with her colleagues at the office of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, but she limits herself to one shot. She is the director of legislative affairs for the mayor and the poetry ambassador for Miami-Dade County.

She also knows the difference between a cortadito, a colada and a cafecito, but she sticks to her coffee pods. She tried to make her own light version — with sweetener and skim milk instead of milk and sugar — but to mixed results.

Her advice for first-timers, “go slow.”

My first pet was a chicken

When kids ask their parents for a pet, most kids usually get a dog or cat. But when Monica De Armas, asked for one, she got something different.
"I really loved my pet chicken," she said. "I was happy with what I got. I didn't get a dog, but I got my chicken."

Growing up, the 29-year-old recalls her mom struggling to find toys that entertained her. She loved playing outdoors, and from day one, she's always been an animal lover.

So her dad came back from the botánica with a chicken. She called her Jileto. It's not an actual word, she said, but the name stuck. She had black feathers with white specks and, unlike other chickens, Jileto was quite docile.

Monica De Armas, at five years old with her pet chicken in Miami.
Courtesy of Monica De Armas
Monica De Armas, at five years old with her pet chicken in Miami.

"She was very unusual because normally chickens run away from people, right? But she would like, hop on you and perch on your lap," she said.

She remembers chasing after her in the yard and maybe hugging her a little too hard — out of love, of course.

De Armas thought she was weird for having a pet chicken. It wasn't until she got older did she meet other people from across Miami-Dade who had the same experience.

"I have always said that if you didn't have a pet chicken in Miami, did you really live in Miami?" she said.

Today, De Armas is a writer and reading teacher and animals are the subject for many of her pieces — including past Zip Odes she has submitted.

"I wrote several chicken ones, but that one was the one that they chose," she said. "And I was like, 'This is so funny.' Who would have thought that my pet chicken would get me into a zip code ode?"

I know where
you are from
your pet chicken

A little Jamaica in South Florida

Nayshma Jones calls herself a Broward girl, raised in between Lauderhill and Plantation in a Caribbean household.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, after time away from Florida, she found herself back in Broward – with her grandparents as housemates. At that time, in late 2021, finding a place she could afford with her income proved difficult with the competitive rental market.

Nayshma Jones and her grandparents, Violet and Amos who came from Jamaica and moved to Plantation, Fla.
Courtesy Giancarlo Simpson
Seren Studios
Nayshma Jones and her grandparents, Violet and Amos who came from Jamaica and moved to Plantation, Fla.

Her grandparents opened their doors, and there she was, once again, in Plantation. For two years, she lived in the same home that raised her mother, her aunt and her cousins.

Last summer, when she saw the mango trees heavy with fruit, she thought, "This is little Jamaica in Florida." It was this moment that inspired her Zip Ode.

Jamaica dem from,
Jamaica they left,
Jamaica they love—
But built
New Jamaica here.

Jones, 33, comes from a lineage of green thumbs. Her grandfather, she says, is her bush doctor, an herbalist. Trees in their yard yield coconuts and herbs to keep healthy. A Neem tree for healing. Her mother once had dozens of different species of orchids.

As a child in school, she said she would go to her grandparents' house while her mother was still at work. Every day was a fresh meal, she recalled. Brown stew chicken, curry goat, rice and peas. Sugarcane peel, a sweet treat. Her grandfather gave her fresh coconut to drink, or gungo peas for her to shell. They ate dinner together every day. Conversations about politics and history accompanied what fruit and vegetables were in season.

“That's also a big part of our conversation because food is really important to us,” she said.

Moving back in with them as an adult reminded her what it meant to be part of a family unit again.

“I don’t think I would have that Zip Ode without having that family inspiration and the care of my family,” she said. “There’s nothing that I’m able to do now that does not come from the sacrifices of my grandparents, their parents, my mother."

"Family is an anchor for me and it will always continue to be an anchor for me."


What: Zip Odes Finale Community Reading
Where: Vizcaya Museum & Gardens | 3251 S Miami Ave, Miami, FL 33129
When: Wed. April, 24, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
RSVP here

This story has been updated to include Nicole Tallman's role as poetry ambassador for Miami-Dade County. An earlier version of this story said Nayshma Jones lived with her grandparent for three years. It was two years.

Sherrilyn Cabrera and Julia Cooper contributed to this report.

Katie Lepri Cohen is WLRN's engagement editor. Her work involves distributing and amplifying WLRN's journalism on social media, managing WLRN's social accounts, writing and editing newsletters, and leading audience-listening efforts. Reach out via email at klcohen@wlrnnews.org.
Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
Sherrilyn Cabrera is WLRN's PM newscast and digital producer.
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