November 23, 2011

Roadside Poetry: Look Back

Many thanks to Roadside Poetry's organizer, Paul Carney, and my mom, ever the intrepid photographer. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

November 18, 2011

San Carlos, Costa Rica

You said it was a twelve-house town. Did you call it town? No sé. You’ve been speaking in English and I’ve been attempting Spanish and there are details we’ve lost to effort, that we’ve grinned over, our hair flying around us in time to the bus’s bumps along the narrow road, the thick air coming in the open windows.

“I grew up here, just around here. There were twelve houses and a soccer field. Very peaceful.”

Paz,” I say.

You smile.

“See that?” You’ve been pointing out the agricultural fields as we pass them, a serious job as they’re everywhere, on the right and the left, stretching for kilometers. Coffee. Plantains. Cassava. Hectares of pineapple. You described how volcanic ash has enriched the soil, how the area is flush with large ranches and small family fincas. As we’ve traveled, I’ve watched men with machetes at their hips, some slashing their silver blades in strong strokes mere meters from the road.

“See that? Sugar cane.”

Azúcar,” I say.

You smile again, amused. Engaged. Wanting to explain things.

“You’ve heard of the fer-de-lance?”

My next breath is quick. I swallow it. Picture brown and black triangle markings, a poisonous bite.

“Snake,” I say. “Muy peligroso.”

You nod. “Exactly.”

The fields blur past. You consider them, lines forming at your eyes. In their edges I see your tio behind a mud-covered wheelbarrow, your papa on a yellow bicycle toting his tools to the fields in the bike’s front basket. Early mornings. I wonder, watching you, how old you were the first time you found calluses on your hands.

“They’re in the cane,” you say. “The snakes. They feed on the rats that live there. So before harvest we burn the fields. Part of the crop is lost, but it’s the better choice.”

A square cemetery full of white stone tombs approaches and recedes. You cross yourself, kiss your thumb.

To the west, I watch the Arenal Volcano steaming. Its puffs of vapor rising and swirling above the rainforest engulf the distant landscape. Closer, below my window in a fenced-in yard, brothers—one-bare-chested, both barefoot—kick a soccer ball between them. Their sister swings in a hammock with a dog and sends text messages on her cell phone.

I glance back at you. Your gaze has moved to the tops of trees, scouting for sloths and orange iguanas.

“See that?” you ask.

I imagine you as a boy, lingering at the end of your mother’s driveway, a cluster of other boys circling you, a soccer ball on your hip, describing the snake you found yesterday in the closet, the way your mother screamed and yelped for you, the way you knew what to do with the broomstick and the backyard and all that jungle.

“See that?”

We are through another twelve-house town, over another one-lane bridge, under another rain-heavy cloud, surrounded by green upon green upon green—this country you’ve laid out for me.

Sí, David,” I say, nodding, careful to pronounce the “v” as a “b.”