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August 8, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Watercolors (4-7): Costa Rica

More watercolors from my long voyage down through Latin America in 1995-96. I was looking up poets, talking in Spanish, and writing eight-line poems which were eventually collected as Caminante, “a major poem” according to Gary Snyder but finally published by a small press which promptly went bankrupt. My reportage on the poetry scene in various countries saw daylight hither and yon in places like Poetry Flash, American Poetry Review and Zyzzyva, but the whole book of journeys was never published. Meanwhile, I would sit down somewhere every few days and paint a watercolor. As a visual artist I’m self-taught and defiantly amateur.

4. National Museum, San José, Costa Rica

I blogged previously about the Costa Rican poets. Pick up the narrative in the capital, San José, in the National Museum:

The human story begins in Costa Rica, as everywhere in America, with tusks of mammoths and big stone lance-heads. Unadorned pottery of democratic villages soon gives way to chieftains patronizing a surplus-value artisan class, carving elegant metates out of volcanic stone. These ceremonial constructions are sustained by lively stone monkeys scratching their armpits, languidly yawning, holding trophy heads of enemies, their tails an exuberant curlicue. I follow the story in the Museo Nacional in San José, an old fort still pock-marked with bullet-holes from the civil war of 1948. This watercolor was painted on the ramparts of the National Museum, looking westward toward downtown San José.

5. Orosí

A quiet excursion into the Costa Rican countryside, the little town of Orosí. I wrote this poem and commentary from the Caminante series there:

OROSI

Cut the moon out of foil and hang it upside-down

over a mosaic of species, each vein and wing

distinct, tooth and claw, spirochete, the sap,

the blood, volcano, riverrun tossing its manes,

a chispa in the eyes, the frequency of mating song.

All you need is the hungry voices of the dead

(a torn anthology will do) and we’re prepared

to perform this concerto for the self and world.

Orosi, Costa Rica

12/2-3/95

Comentario: the view from the outhouse of a little hospedaje, at 3 a.m., after a pleasant, wistful evening with friendly gringas in a small town with the oldest church in Costa Rica. The smell of tobacco smoke. More butterflies than you can shake a stick at. Night birds who have studied with the greatest musicians in the history of jazz. And an old moon rising.

6. Heredia

A slow afternoon in the plaza of Heredia, not far from San José. Shadows movc on the facade of an old church.

7. Cahuita

The Atlantic coast at Cahuita: I recently went returned to that coast with my daughter, son-in-law and toddler granddaughter. It’s gotten gentrified: Italian, French and Thai restaurants strung out along the intermittently paved coast highway. Undocumented Nicaraguans do the menial labor, while hip multinational expats gather Sunday mornings at the Farmer’s Market in Puerto Viejo. Who listens to the music of the waves?

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