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December 25, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Caminante 1

Front cover of the book CAMINANTE (2002). Watercolor JOS, Convento Santa Cataline, Areuipa, Perú.

In 1995, I left my challenging and comfortable nine-year fifth-sixth grade bilingual teacher gig in East Oakland — which warrants another blog post — to travel pretty much down the length of  Latin America. I started in Mexico City in September 1995, went down to Chiapas, was scared of Guatemala (did go there in ’88, ’89 and ’06), back to D.F., on to Costa Rica, overland to Nicaragua and back to Costa Rica, flew on to Colombia because everyone said the poetry was there and I had chickened out on Guatemala, overland to Ecuador, flew to Perú and met up weith Becky, Machu Picchu, weekend in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the Festival Internacional de Poesía  back in Medellín, Colombia. I’mposting elsewhere (all those pings) on this blog, excerpts from my journals of those travels and meeting with poets, which shoulda been published in a book and maybe still will.

In Mexico City, I met for the first time the great young poet Jorge Fernández Granados and read his Resurreción, which had just won the Jaime Sabines prize. Granados’ eight-line stanza gave me a useful box. Much later, back in Gringolandia, the Comentarios wrote themselves, a platform of glossary, another way to pitch it, prose-poems, an irony corner, peanut gallery, Lew Welch’s Red Monk. I’ll follow each poemita with an Overview, new material.

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1      CAMINOS

*

When I noticed the poem within me I knew I could fly.
I stood on the parapet and stepped straight into air.
I soared down past a congregation of zopilotes,
past orchids growing like pineapples in the moustache
of pine branches, butterflies embroidered on the breasts
of living women, their mouths shaping fog into words.
I entered the turquoise screen of the cenote naked
and emerged among ebullient salt caminos.

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Lagunas de Montebello
Chiapas
10/8–9/95

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Comentario: caminos are paths, zopilotes are buzzards, and a cenote is a waterhole in limestone. Las Lagunas de Montebello is a chain of boundary waters reaching into Guatemala. As I watch, their colors change: pastels of reflected pine and oak and cliffs, leaves’ suave gray-green swirl with gouache pink — then the wind breathes, titillating oak leaves, and the surface flutters silver into turquoise. They say these lakes drain through a tunnel to the Pacific Ocean, two ranges away. Smugglers row across at night.

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Overview: this filrst poem of Caminante comes from farthest south Chiapas, almost to the Guatemalan border. Daytripping from San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Soconusca poet Gabriela Balderas and Italian waif Hilaria and I rented a rowboat on the first Laguna de Montebello. Macho 53-year-old John did row strongly, and dear Gaby took a good turn and got the hang of it, but when Hilaria tried to row, she talked Italianately with her hands and dropped both oars. The orchids are epiphytes, the women are smoking cigarettes. The point of view starts on the heights of cliffs, falls into bottomless lakes and drains to the Pacific.

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