You’re clean shaven in this country
where trees grow beards of moss,
where even bank tellers
look a little like banditos
in vests as pungent as sweatsuits.
Still, you prefer the vegetable air
to almost any other place on the map.
After the heart attack,
you considered Paris—
the flying buttresses,
the fractured light of its cathedrals;
the entire city refined and otherworldly,
ascending on its architectural wings—
but decided you had no use for glory,
with statues and expensive trees.
You admit, on the whole,
the towns in this country are ugly.
One summer you drove toward Nicoya
(a beautiful name that became your destination),
expecting a fragrant town of mango trees
but found cattle grazing in the plaza,
rattling the tin plates
in the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant.
A Coca-Cola sign hung weathered and askew.
That’s perhaps why you like it,
it’s a country you can’t count on,
a country of misfits.
Unable to take root in the mud,
the twentieth century has failed miserably,
creating neither factory nor industry
but a thirst for soda pop;
like cosmetic surgery,
it is skin deep.
The clock is stuck in the rain
and the mud of four o’clock.
There’s nothing to do but wait as if
in a dry cave, a room with a view of the waterfall,
pinned as you are beneath the downpour.
The waiter bends over your cup
without filling it,
the storekeeper holds your change
until the rain, hypnotic and dramatic,
leaves the streets and the gutters,
the balcony and the air greener, heavier—
mildew blooming in the closet where your shoes,
powdered with a sea-green lichen,
resembles old bronze,
a pair of ancient goblets.
While iguanas lounge in the attic
(a prehistoric version of the domestic rat),
the Office of the Ministry
(a pink and crumbling building
surrounded by dusty rose trees)
prints more money to prop
the flimsy flowered currency.
You can’t predict what your American
dollars will bring by morning.
In the hotel restaurant
you meet the Undesirable American.
He learns just enough of the local lingo
to swing by, living on a dwindling account
and, here and there, a real estate swindle.
Or the pensionado who buys two cigars,
offering you one the day
his Social Security arrives.
Like the cockroach, the displaced
have crawled through the cracks
and selected for themselves
an agreeable niche.
A place to start from scratch.
They thrive in the vegetable air.
You wonder how you’ll survive,
unfit, unable to work.
Lacking the predatory skills,
you’ve stayed in the trees,
a dreamer, all your life,
even now wanting to believe
a change of scenery
will get you back on your feet.
A brief hiatus in the vegetable air.
Tonight, you walk along the damp streets,
an average steak, a glass of wine
swishing in your belly,
to your small room wedged between
a jukebox and a dance hall.
There are so many things you can’t change—
like the dull thrashing music.
You draw the blinds, switch on the tiny cassette.
Silence. The click of the tape.
And then the familiar aria,
rising like the moon,
lifts you out of yourself,
transporting you to another country
where, for a moment, you travel light.