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December 28, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Caminante 2: Chinkultic

Mayan temple at Chinkultic, Chiapas

The second poem in Caminante is also from Chiapas, on the same excursion from San Cristóbal de Las Casas with Gaby and Hilaria, at a Mayan citadel made of white limestone like tracings of ivory, under pines, at the brink of a Coleridgean chasm.

In this poem I tip my hat (for the modified appropriation of his stanza)  to the young Mexican poet Jorge Fernández Granados (1961) and with him leap into the void,  alone with the bird’s words.


CAMINANTE       2            CHINKULTIC

This guy on the one cliff has a machete.
That guy on the other has an idea.
Between them, la poesía is shining like a simile.
Fernández Granados and I grab for it with our
sweaty hands but end up with only the weight
of our two bodies sustaining us above
the abyss where a tzentzontle is singing,
a bird with the authority of language.


Chinkultic, Chiapas


Comentario: The distinguished young Mexican poet Jorge Fernández Granados won the Jaime Sabines Prize for Resurrección, a sequence of 48 poems in 17-syllable ottava rima. I hereby acknowledge my debt to him for my 8-line stanza. The tzentzontle is the Aztec hermit thrush. At Chinkultic, a white Classic Mayan pyramid stands athwart a chasm, sacred to memory, the morning, and the mother. On the far cliff a demon-lover howls.


Overview: Somewhere between the first and second poems of Caminante I decided, or understood, that I was writing in eight-line poemitas.

I also understood right away that they would never take place in the ephemeral trivial moment so beloved of the poets of language who never dare beyond the present tense, but in a relatively recent bracket of past, usually something that had struck me particularly where I was travelling.

I would also have to accept that these poems would be written at night mostly, at 3 o.r 4 am when I woke to stagger down some hotel hallway to pee and couldn’t get back to sleep, by the light of a flashlight that wouldn’t wake me up too much and so would foster orphic flow. I was glad to embrace the certainty of eight lines as long as my journey should last. Having a formal parameter helps almost any poet immensely: each poem poses its own challenges and permissions.


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