POSTALES DE COSTA RICA by Ric Vrana
This is a nine piece poem cycle from a trip to Costa Rica in March, 2010. On this trip I studied Spanish in a language school near Flamingo Beach, visited the mountainous rainforest near Monteverde, hung out on the streets of the capital, San Jose, and finished up staying a few days on the beach at Manuel Antonio in the southern part of the west coast.Bus to Guanacaste
Plane ride south to where
I’ve ever been more.
Night landing splash of lights
amid dark outlined, hilly, unlearned cities.
Unsure of directions but everything
new to me now will soon be familiar.
Next day long bus ride to Guanacaste,
arid province of the northwest
here below the horse latitudes
of counter-clockwise cyclonic rotations
where the drummer boy, Santamaria
marched against the filibusters
defeating them at Santa Rosa -
the great national struggle against
Yankee adventurers, who from
captured Nicaragua sought now
to make a slave state of the Ticans.
Ninety years later
deciding it no longer served a purpose
Costa Rica dissolved its army
and no one has invaded since
except me and the Europeans on this bus
traveling to the Spanish immersion school
on the beach at Flamingo where
all morning we are in class
learning verbs with a sudden cohort of friends.
Afternoons we explore the village and
body surf warm waves of the white sand beach.
Our intentions are honorable
we can’t relax at a resort while
nationals wait on us. We will
spend some money but
not like we think we own the place.
Still, bus bumping down narrow,
once paved roads between rows of saplings
pruned to serve as living fence posts,
nearing the coast the real estate signs
I see are in English.Catamaran
From across Potrero Bay you can see
the lay of the land. Its hills
where the monkeys howl each night
look dry and somewhat smaller
gazing across the timid wake
of this catamaran I share with
paid strangers on excursion this afternoon.
Something female in this world
loves me, I know it and sometimes
she’s as solid as a ghost that holds me
close to her bosom breath,
the swelling breath in these sails,
the rubber breath in the snorkel I try on, then
slip like a tongue into the warm salt sea.
Under the water she is even closer.
In my own breath I hear her pulse.
Listen to the life support through the hollow tube.
Watch silent extravaganza of mullet fish.
Dive into the middle of several hundred
yellow silver bodies. Like a single body
around me they swirl and resume their winding path.
Later we anchor for sandwiches and drink
tell each other of the sights we saw undersea.
I swam alone along the deeper edge of the reef
where no one else saw the majestic school below.
On the lonely beach of Lovers Cove
a single dog, ecstatic, plays with gentle waves.
I see that I am already here.
That which in this world is female
I strongly suspect does love me and
I’m new in this place and so is she and
suddenly I notice she’s been here everyday.
Sits on the deck of the catamaran beside me, smiling,
with her camera. We take each others’ pictures.
Red shift sun dives into the Pacific.
Arc Iris Monteverde
Zipping through mist between trees
steel cables sing me airborne above ravines
too fast and too loud to see anything slow.
Not even monkeys do this!
Like hummingbird wings we
must be invisible to the sloths
nearly invisible to us.
Later walk on leaf littered forest floor traversing
suspension footbridges through flowering canopy
stop – look for movement that is not subtle breeze
the means by which to detect life.
There is so much of it here in the cloud forest
culture hearth of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Walking between banana trees and wild orchids
I hear grunts and growls I know are not my own!
Today, through a minibus windshield
I saw the prism colors of the arc iris rainbow
touching a puddle tucked between hills
on the unpaved road ahead
and for the first time
I understood the promise.
The first people in this place
loved the moist elevation
knew no seasons
built no roads or cities
bridges or zip lines
But in dense forest clearings placed
huge perfect stone spheres aligned with planets.
Not even we do this.Joselina
Joselina stands in the shade of a public monument
hot sun Tican day in the Plaza of Culture.
Taking a photo of the Teatro Nacional, I
back up until I have to say, hola!
In this generous land where people like each other
she is pleased to meet me, speaking her language.
Compliments me, but corrects my grammar.
We go for a coffee in the bookstore nearby.
Sweet Joselina, in the capital just this day
her child nearby attends school until this evening.
Made up nails and dyed red hair
the push-up bra so prevalent in this Latin air.
Habla mi idioma?
She laughs a word or two of English.
With her, I practice my Spanish.
Under the lazy fan in my squalid room
she teaches me new conjugations.Hotel Doral
My trips on foot through this throbbing city
are circuits that open and close on the
reception desk where Rudolfo each morning
guards the seedy elegance of Hotel Doral.
At night I see him again, standing in the doorway
having a smoke in the cool dark breeze. He
welcomes me back from wandering
where he warned me not to go.
From my room on the fifth floor at sunrise I see
the Merced Church and lower red tiled roofs
at all angles and elevations crowding narrow canyon streets
at every hour some uneven sidewalk has the mercy of shade.
Giant busses inch like queen termites through
red taxi mites and corpuscle pedestrians scurry
in all directions, jump the deep dry rain gutters
like finca irrigation ditches but dirtier in this gritty city.
By day I tour museums and the central market and stop
to rest weary feet at public plazas where I watch the human zoo
and hear the reassuring song of a language I am learning.
Overhead in trees I cannot name are screaming parrots
dropping seed pods like alien spaceships crumbling underfoot.
Shoeshine man and old greybeard play a game I’ve never seen
batted ball knocks blocks off a vase in a circle near the
strange pink cupola dominating the Central Park
where at evening’s paseo, entertainment as much as exercise,
proud men and women strut for each other and mostly ignore me
sitting with my camera and my notebook and a grin,
see young guys and girls fascination with the fast food franchises.
Later I eat gallo pinto at a soda on Avenue Six,
stop at a bar I’ve been to the two nights before this
where by now Enrique introduces me to his cousin
whose cousin I have also met. All conspire to improve my Spanish.
Before closing the owner and another bartender drag a man,
unconscious, by his ankles out the door and onto the street.
Patricia with the deep cleavage leans even closer
shares another secret with my ear. Wait,
isn’t that the guy she came in here with?
On the walk back to the Doral two men like roosters
circle each other with fists in the center of an amused crowd
until the Fuerza Pública, with sheepish grins stroll slowly by.
Back home it is winter but here in the tropics I sleep
or almost sleep, under the constant beat of an overhead fan.
All night there is distraction on the street below. To the sounds
of kicked and rolling beer cans, two women brawl.
A man, perhaps less drunk but not by much,
reasons and pleads and begs them to stop the slapping and kicking.
Already at this hour there is faint light and the flow of pedestrians.
Today I will travel without sleep for the fascination of the night.
In the morning I tell Rudolfo I will be leaving.
“I hope”, he says, “senior Ric, you will come back to us again.”
Coca Cola Station
Another market maze
busy place by day
odd chicken parts under glass
tiny cars everywhere
symphony of honking
green and red parrots squawk.
Helmeted sewer worker’s smiling head
pokes out of sidewalk manhole at my feet.
Coca Cola Bus Station
moist mid morning heat
ask women for directions
go anywhere from here
money belt lifeline
one way ticket direct.
Lottery ticket sellers on every corner tell me
guard your money when you go to Quepos.
Sabana Cemetario line
Costa Rican Chinese food
red light district night
not sure if I’m doing this right
large breasted women
I know what they sell.
Señor, the women you meet here are earnest.
In Quepos the women you meet are professionals.Boys of Espadilla
I did not know the beach at Espadilla.
Upon arriving, changed from sweaty clothes, then
followed the direction I knew from the map was the ocean.
Emerged from the orchid path, walked right, toward a headland.
Central American red sun with so many arms
inched down, hard sliding into silhouette cliff.
Near large rocks and warm water tide pools,
young Jorge introduced himself and we walked
the opposite way toward the happy hour tiki bar
an open air welcome mat he said was his favorite
in a hamlet I didn’t know at the other end of the beach.
We had ceviche and mojitoes where he told me he used to work
until the head waiter kicked us out for not having colones.
I was surprised Jorge expected me to pay for his supper.
Still more surprised later, when, smoking ganga on the beach,
at hot dusk with other boys without shirts
he rubbed my arm and said he wanted to see my room.
Laughing at my gullibility, I excused myself and went back alone
along the still strange and now big dipper dark beach
searching for that orchid path that might have been imaginary,
watching green foam waves pulsing to my left
wondering if a midnight naked swim might sweep me away.
Looking over my shoulder, nervous and not sure why.
Jorge had friends in town.
I had dollars in my room.
Almost there, a flashlight approached from the trees.
I stood tall with no place to duck on the sand
as nervous prey might show down a predator.
My back to thundering surf, the local constabulary greeted me.
Negotiating the porous language barrier I learned
they were looking for a man tonight
said earlier to have accosted a woman on this beach.
Somehow, I was above suspicion.
Body Surfing Soliloquy
I don’t remember how old I was
when I learned this wet pleasure
hailing thunder waves like taxis off Long Island.
Free riding crests and breaks remains
a great body craving
throughout my water-seeking life.
Impossibly warm Costa Rican ocean
lush jungle seeps all the way down to the beach.
I am scrubbed by the violence of foam and sand.
Swim until dusk, then stars exhaust my day.
Quick change. Cantina meal. Pescado con cerveza.
This is my plan for tomorrow too.
On the sun glare horizon I see parasailors.
Tourists are ferried out on fishing trips.
In the village I run a gauntlet of beach weasels,
offer every Pura Vida experience for dollars
but all I want to do costs only my endurance
battling naked the giant force of the Pacific.
Sweaty night in flea-bitten cabina.
Germans in the next room next drink and cough.
Carefully, I place my still wet towel
into the gap under the door big enough for a snake
but not big enough for what would eat it.
Can’t sleep for the bugs and the sand and the heat.
Next day I visit the market town of Quepos.
Cacophonous provincial place, crowded narrow streets
frantic bus station, buy ticket for inevitable return home,
respite in open air bar with expat gringos and local beer then
back down the winding road to Manuel Antonio where
once more before departing, I gift myself to white foam waves.
I don’t remember how old I was
when this started, the endless yearning
to float weightless in warm salt water
to escape the geographies of my birth and upbringing
fall in love with a foreign land and its people
regain ancient amniotic fluid of the pulsing sea.Leaving and Returning
The airport is like all the others.
The last of my changed money
buys trinkets and export coffee from the gift shop.
People sit in rows looking out windows
wearing earphones. Another layer removed
from the steamy place they will soon leave behind.
It will take me a long time
to digest the meaning of this excursion.
It will take all my powers of summary
to execute a monument in my life to these days.
My eyes have done the heavy lifting here.
The back office work of this trip remains.
The plane takes off like a movie credit.
I see the Central Valley recede below while
I remember faces of people I met here
pleased to make even my humble acquaintance
proud, in a way unlike me, of their country.
Noticeably kind to each other.
Two hours on I see land out the window,
behind the wing, inner harbor of Havana,
a place I’d thought to go but didn’t.
Perhaps another trip, but on this one
there still wasn’t time for all the beaches,
cities, green mountains, dense forests.
At dusk in Miami I land, not yet home.
Immigrant legends celebrate our arrival
in a time when America was promise.
Herded through customs, scanned and frisked,
“I’ve a connection to make”, I say to the man.
“Yeah. Good luck with that.” he says, not in welcome.