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July 5, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Costa Rica

By the time I got to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, my daughter Kia ( and son-in-law J.D. ( along with two-year-old Tesla Rose, had moved down from the jungle house with its kilometer of impassible muddy road, howler monkeys competing with the thunder and three-meter wingspan mosquitoes, down to the La Caracola complex fifty meters from the Caribbean sea. My consuegra Nana Ina was just about ready to fly home and my job description was mainly childcare. Pretty special.

As a writer, I understood that my assignment was to let go for a little while of the 11-syllable poems I have been writing addressed to my granddaughter. Half the job of a writer is to understand what your assignment needs to be at any given place and time. While in Costa Rica, I wrote a few sort-of tanka in Spanish. Here’s one from my very first moments in San José, listening to the World Cup in a taxicab as a labybug landed on the windshield:

una mariquita/ aterriza en el parabrisas/ del tazi// erres impenetrables de los/ comentaristas del fútbol

I dunno how this sounds to a native-speaking poet (Elsa Cross was polite) but what I like about it is how all the vocabulary is much more interesting in Spanish than in English.

a ladybug/lands on the windshield/ of the taxi// impenetrable double RR’s/of the soccer play-by-play announcers

Barefoot at the dining room table in our beach house, I spent many hours on the relatively interruptible task of translation. Right now I’m working on Eduardo Milán, Uruguayan poet long resident in Mexico. He’s got his eye on the ball of social justice and personal feeling, allowing language to reverb and bounce around some as it settles back to message. So far none of these have been published/ accepted in English except for a couple in the online version of Two Lines due out next fall. Here’s a quick one:

décimo tercer camino Ullán

las moreras, las morenas, las moras, las otras/ consideradas en detalle con su oculto núcleo/ desplegadas bajo el sol frío en invierno, níquel/ playa que retrocede hasta ojos pura alma —los de las últimas// anales, ardientes, abismales, rosas

Thirteenth Ullán Highway

black girls, white girls, blackberry girls/ analyzed in detail, hidden nucleus/ unfolded under cold winter sun, beach/ of nickel receding toward pure-eyed soul — of the last women// anal, ardent, abysmal, roses

The social scene along the coast was fascinating. There is a thin veneer of evanescent weekenders — I rode back to San José in a bus populated entirely by American college students in Spanish classes — but they hardly count. Kia and J.D. were there long enough to form some friendships in a bilingual expat scene including engaging and creative folks from Spain and Argentina as well as gringos. Typical table conversation would be split into two language circles. The native Ticos were not much in evidence and probably avoid such foreigner scenes. The menial work, on the other hand, is done by Nicaraguans, mostly indocumentados, who are desperate to work for less than minimum wage. I lad a long conversation with two Nica women while Tesla played with their kids.

Here’s the first Tesla Rose poem I wrote after my return to California:


The trees above your gaze are taller than God

with their swollen pods that sometimes fall and burst

into white inky splotches that slime your feet

so you be carried down the trail to the beach.

Almost complete sentences, “I want be up.”

A final forest glade opens to the sand

as new as if Columbus never saw it,

curving to points, Cahuita, Punta Uva,

Playa Chiquita, Cocles, Talamanca,

in oscillating fractals of espuma

that hustles both ways through coral, up and down

to the planet’s fundamental horizon,

water forever as far as you can see,

grandmother grandfather Ocean whence we came.

Back on the sand you’re chasing a soccer ball

laughing as Dadda feints right, goes left, lets you

steal the ball from him and dribble wildly down

ancient beachfront soon to be priceless sandstone

with coral outcrops, like some desperate striker

sprinting for the gleaming net of nothingness

in the final minute of reported time

to collide with your grandfather’s aching butt

like protons in shallow water, watched by billions:

a buzzard on a palm tree, translucent fish

digging sand-crab the exact color of sand

except for two black peppercorn compound eyes

whose memories of your every dodging move

have been posted for instant replay on Facebook.

Tesla Rose, Grandpa and Ocean


One Comment

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  1. Jack Large / Jul 6 2010 12:07 am

    Thanks, John. I’ve been a little out of sorts lately, but without a clue as to why. Now I see I just needed a quick Costa Rican turnaround.

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