Poetry

Guanacaste Journal

EVELYN LAU

Horses gallop the beach, flying past like figures in a dream.

                                                  ˜˜

We are sheltered from the country at the oceanfront resort.

We are miles down a gravel road where black figures loiter

under the constellatory trees in a hail of seed pods.

Costa Rica passes outside the window of the night bus—

small lit homes flaring in the scrubby landscape,

doors open in the equatorial heat, bare tiled floors.

Coffee farm, cantaloupe farm.

Our ghost reflections in the glass, the white gawp

of tourist stares. Maids squatting on the curb

at the guarded gate, then the hotel rising out of the tropical night

like a castle in Las Vegas. 

                                                  ˜˜

The heat erases everything, like the deliverance of morphine.

The walk from the resort

to Matapalo Beach a cartoon crawl through the desert—

even the palms wilt in this heat, yellow as sunflowers.

Flammable skin. Clack of palm fronds,

crickets making their orchestral music.

Chapel-white hotel against a blue sky

strewn with butterflies. Grasshoppers lining

the butter-cream corridors. Surely this is no place for sorrow?

                                                  ˜˜

Across the water, tens of thousands

of Haitians perish in the earthquake rubble.

We'd know more if we watched the news,

the pleas for aid, the images of children stumbling

around collapsed buildings where their whole families

are buried, but we have our own grief.

What would we do with someone else's,

where would we carry it on our bodies?

Already the doctor says I am too heavy.

                                                   ˜˜

We are intent on leisure, teams of tan people

at our service, rousing us to water sports and aerobics,

salsa and magic tricks on the show stage.

In the pool we swim up to the bar, sit chest-deep in water

with our pina coladas, this was someone's idea

of paradise. A tangle of toilet paper swirls past

in the chlorinated water. A wasp paddles frantically

on the chemical surface, unimpressed

by this blue heaven. Rum floats on my tongue.

We take shelter by the artificial waterfall,

in the shade cast by a plastic boulder. 

                                                  ˜˜

A man who looks like John Updike sits next to me at breakfast.

Updike, I am staring at the sea,

under the sun that was your psoriatic skin's salvation.

The women, their shapes and sizes, their moles

and cellulite you would have detailed in your desire

to get it all down, to love it all. The cantaloupe breasts

of a young girl on an old woman wearing a gold bikini.

The aging men in their unashamed half-nakedness,

wrinkly buttocks and pot-bellies, white hairs sprouting

from dank crevices. Some days I see you everywhere,

you who never once graced my sight while you were alive.

                                                  ˜˜

The food! The buffet is an ocean spilling its shores—

vats and cornucopias and platters of food,

proteins and starches, sweets and tree fruits,

seafood prepared a dozen ways, station after station

heaped with rainbow choice. Seconds and thirds.

A storm in my stomach in the middle of the night;

groaning with the consequences of gluttony.

The starving North Koreans combed through the manure

of farm animals, searching for kernels of corn.

They lived on bark stripped from trees,

rotten vegetables and handfuls of grass,

until they began to die. A day of this life

would be a celestial reward beyond imagination, beyond hope. 

                                                   ˜˜

The leatherback turtle drags herself to the base

of a braided tree to lay her eggs.

We are reverent as mourners

watching her painful progress up the beach,

the hours-long digging of the hole, flippers sending up

gusts of dust. The moon has gone missing,

though the sky is gasping with stars.

Stars reflected in the water like the lanterns

of drowned boats. The next day the eggs hatch,

the baby turtles scurry one by one to the sea,

past the gauntlet of tourists snapping photos—

they make their blind heedless way to their destination,

tumbling end over end in their haste

to escape that boy's greedy grasp,

that woman's clumsy feet, our cries and clicking cell phones.

A wonder they survive us, anything

survives us. The first wave sweeps them off

to other perils.

                                                   ˜˜

Float in a boat down the river. Howler monkeys

in the treetops, swinging through the leafy canopy.

Monkeys with golden faces sipping the silty water

at the riverbank, crocodile's beady eyes

above the waterline like air bubbles, pagoda tail.

Iguanas in sunset colours, tangerine

and lemon, a china bird on legs like flamingo stilts.

A row of bats tattooed on a tree trunk,

forming a pattern like a snake to scare off predators.

They know what to do to survive. Later,

we drink guava juice in the cactus garden,

provide sustenance for insects with whirring wings

helicoptering through the sandstorm.

                                                   ˜˜

You start to recognize them at the buffet,

along the beach and on the tour bus—

these strangers sealed under the dome with us,

in this world away from the world.

Their paperback novels and Kindles,

their holiday clothes blazing with flowers

and palm trees. They have earned these carnival pleasures

with honest labour, some of them.

Beside me, the American on the deck chair poolside

busies her hands with a bundle of yarn. I think

a gift for a grandchild, but no,

she is knitting scarves and toques

for the homeless. We gave everything we had,

she says of the drive to collect winter clothes,

but the need is still there, so now she is knitting

her donations. Was I wrong about everyone?

                                                    ˜˜

Aftershocks in Haiti. The storms are moving down the coast.

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EVELYN LAU

Evelyn Lau is a lifelong Vancouverite who has published thirteen books, including eight volumes of poetry. Her fiction and non-fiction have been translated into a dozen languages; her poetry has received the Milton Acorn Award, the Pat Lowther Award and a National Magazine Award. From 2011–2014, she served as Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. Her most recent collection is Pineapple Express (Anvil, 2020).


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