Gingerly as Cats

I turned around and there you were
walking across the reef toward me,
remember that?
I couldn’t believe my eyes

what sense guided you directly to me
in the dusk?

we sat here
as the tide turned
and came closer
you smiled at how surprised
I was but
you could always find me
even in the dark.
I put my new sunglasses on the rock beside me
and forgot them
they’ll wash up somewhere
someday.
maybe you will find them

I come here a lot now
to this spot
with the secret bench
on the sea side of
the rocky point
you can barely see from the sand

later, we picked our way back
across the reef without falling
gingerly as cats
in the moonless dark
you’d think it couldn’t be done but
you and I have senses
other people don’t

Writing About Surfing

A Picture of Wind

I wish I could write about surfing.  I love it so much.  It creates the shape of my life. 

It’s easy to talk about a surf session, a break, a particular wave, or a board with other surfers, but writing about surfing is very hard.  It’s like trying to paint a picture of wind or describe love.  There are things that, when you wrap them in a blanket of words, they stop being what they are.  I can describe to you a picture of surfing, but how can I tell you what surfing is like?  It is motion.  It is pain and delight and infinite patience.  It is “stop” perfectly braided with “go.”

Can you tell me how to ride a bicycle?  Explain it to me.  What you say will not at all describe the actual experience of riding.  It is a thing you know in your body, not in your mind.

Heavenly Bodies

Surfing begins in the sky, with heavenly bodies—the sun, the moon, maybe even the stars.  The gravitational forces of the sun and the moon pull on Earth’s water, making bulges the planet spins through.  And then there are the storms.  Warm and cold air swirl in the sky.  Storms form over the ocean and, like kiddos jumping on the bed, cause the surface to bounce up and down.   These disturbances travel over thousands of miles of open ocean exactly the same way ripples radiate outward from the point a pebble tossed hits the water.  They arrive at the coast as sets of waves.

We wait for them.  It’s all very predictable.

A multitude of variables are constantly changing.

The Conditions

There’s not much to say when you write or talk about surfing except to describe the conditions.  The swell direction—as in where the storm was.  The size of the swell.  The wind direction.  The speed of the waves.   The time of day.  The water temperature.  The length of time between sets.  The height of the tide.  Whether the tide is rising or dropping.  The currents.  The number of people in the water.  Any time one of the variables changes, the entire experience changes. 

All of the variables are constantly changing.

You must pay attention.

Lessons

These are the lessons of surfing:  Wait.  Pay attention.   Commit.   Release fear.

Surfing Is Waiting

Most of surfing is waiting.  You wait days or weeks for a swell to come across the ocean.  You wait hours or days for the tide to come in or to go out.  You hope and wait for the wind to switch, stop, or start.  Right there we’ve whittled a lifetime into a few hours each week. 

You paddle out into the ocean and wait.  Wait for the set of waves.  Wait for a good one.  Wait for the best one.  Wait, if someone else positioned closer to the peak than you are.  Paddle.  Stay in position.  Wait.  It doesn’t make the most exciting photos.  Exciting photos are misleading.  Most of surfing isn’t standing on a surfboard.  Most of surfing is waiting, paddling, being ready, feeding brave thoughts to your heart.  Exciting photos are monuments to the best seconds.  

At Any Second

When the time comes to turn, paddle, and stand, you must be very strong, very fast, and very brave.  You cannot hesitate or fear.  This is why surfing is a lifestyle—because you must always be ready either to wait or to give 100% at any second. 

Then the ocean’s conditions interact with your conditions:  What you’ve eaten.  What you’ve drank.  How much you’ve slept.  How often you’ve surfed lately.  How happy you are or how sad.  How angry.  How much you love yourself.  How relaxed you are.  How afraid.  Where your body holds pain.  How much energy you have left.  What board you are riding.  How focused you are.  How quick.  How strong.  How brave.

All of the variables are constantly changing.

You must pay attention.

The Soul

The wave isn’t water.   The wave is something else.  It’s a pulse of energy, large or small, that moves through the water.  Water itself lies flat.  Waves move through it and shake it the way you shake your towel to be sure there are no scorpions hiding there.  Water is an element.  Waves are live moments that move through it.  Water is the body; the wave is the soul. 

We interact with them intimately.

From a Verb to a Noun

Somehow, waves and particles are the same thing in quantum physics.   Separated unto itself, I cannot understand this statement.  But in the context of surfing, it’s what we know instinctively.  A wave is all of its moments.  The wave is the swell on the horizon that you sense in the back of your eye before you can see it.  It is the bulge in the water moving toward you, forming.  It is the push behind you.  It is the sudden slope you are diving into as you leap to your feet.  It is the myriad of instants that shape and disappear over/under/around you as you ride.  It is the boom of whitewater as the wave empties its last energy onto the sand bar, or the gentle fading into calm water as it ends.  It’s not one of those things; it’s all of them.  Any of them, separate from the others, is not the wave. 

Get a camera.  Take a photo.  The wave turns into a particle.  It stops being a motion and becomes an image; it switches from a verb to a noun.  Long before you look at the photo, the wave doesn’t exist anymore at all.

You must pay attention.

These are the lessons of surfing:  Wait.  Pay attention.   Commit.   Release fear.

One Thing/Homework

When you love surfing, it shapes your life.  And so you love your life.  

It all becomes one thing:  Surfing, living, love, the water, the motion of waves pushing through it, waiting, the work of paddling, the courage to engage a mountain of water, what you eat, when you sleep, the coffee brewing at dawn.   The magical moment when you release your coiled energy into a push, a leap, and moments of flight—this is the highlight.  But surfing is everything you do if you love it. 

Love is everything you do if surfing is your teacher and you have done your homework.

Very exciting photo by Leonardo Pinero, Tamarindo Costa Rica

Ghosts Are More Territorial Than Cats

ghosts are more territorial than cats
I knew you wouldn’t
follow me
you prefer those same empty rooms with
mapaches
scratching at the screens

I felt you watch me pack the dishes
take down the pictures
put my cloths into suitcases
and take apart the bed
I assembled there
two and a half years ago when
you were a flesh and blood human
I didn’t know

de último
I stuffed the cats into cages and
took them away
yowling

they’re getting used to it here
already
they love me more than
my own ghost

ghosts are more territorial than cats
which is lucky
I could walk away and leave you there
you would never have left yourself
in spirit
the way you left in body
one cool dry dawn
sin mirar atrás

it was easier for me to go
the excuse about the inundaciones
is true and everyone knows it

I didn’t say adiós when I left
or hasta luego
either
I walked out the door
as silent as you
as silent as cats

I am not territorial
at all

I bolted the bed together in the new room
with no ghosts
put my shoes in the closet and
the spoons in the drawer
I’m home now
with my books and my
masa madre fermenting in the fridge

at night under the fan
I open the windows to the
sea breeze
and dream sweetly
of cats

Six Feet of Separation

Surreal

It was13 months ago that the world (mine) shut down. Remember that? Yours may have shut down before or after, but most places on the planet have been “closed” for some length of time during the last year. Isn’t that weird? Who would have thought??

I haven’t written about this. It’s such a polarized subject and I don’t like public conversation on polarized subjects. You may have noticed.

In March of 2020, Costa Rica closed its borders. For three weeks or until further notice which turned out to be November. Surreal. I never thought I would live in a world with closed borders, ever. I mean, there wasn’t even a war or anything. Amazing.

March 2020

I was so scared at first. We all were. I was scared of the mass death I imaged would begin to sweep the globe. Social unrest. Violence. Scarcity. I wasn’t really worried about toilet paper, bread flour, or juicy steaks. I was worried about drinking water, rice, beans, cooking oil.

Ironically, we never ran out of a thing. Tamarindo was a booming tourist town fully stocked to supply thousands and thousands of visitors with everything they could want. And when the borders slammed shut and the thousands of people left, guess what. There was plenty of stuff for those of us who were still here!

Those months of lock-down were awesome. Not from a financial stand-point, of course, but from a quality-of-life standpoint. The nights went immediately from a noisy booming ruckus that started at sunset and ended at dawn, to complete quiet. I’ve never slept so well. The streets were silent. Not just quiet–silent. I could lie in my bed in the early mornings and listen to monkey troupes all the way back up into the mountains telling each other who was where and which way to go or not go that day. At first no one was allowed on the beach, but as soon as we were, every day was a family reunion in the sand. Seriously. Everybody you knew was there. We had all of Tamarindo to ourselves, just like we used to in the rainy season back in the old days. I remember after the government started letting people move around the country a little more and the first San Jose tourists started showing up. It was weird to see someone I didn’t know in line at the store or walking down the street.

We didn’t make very much money, but there weren’t a lot of places to spend it, either. For months, the bars and restaurants were very limited or closed. Only grocery stores and pharmacies were in business. There was even a period of time when people were so scared of each other I only had one or two friends who were brave enough to come over for dinner if I invited them. We had a lot of good times on those quiet nights in my kitchen. Nobody was busy. Can you imagine that? Can you remember? For months on end, no one was busy and tired. It was fantastic.

News

I don’t watch “the news,” therefore it has no power to frighten me. There are things I am afraid of, but they are not things that I see on tv shows.

Open

Then Costa Rica opened up again and BOOM BABY, we’re back. It’s not “like before,” but Tamarindo is Tamarindo again. Traffic jams. Lines in the stores. Tourists who smell like Coppertone sunscreen and wear special big hats and flowy dresses they bought specifically to wear on the beach. I found this very amusing when “the world” opened up again and the tourists came back. I forgot about the thing of buying special flowy clothing to look pretty in on the beach. During Lockdown when the beach belonged to locals, there was none of that nonsense. Baseball caps. Board shorts. Bikinis. Old t-shirts. No clothes at all if you’re too young to go to school.

And Now?

Who knows. People all over the world are getting vaccinated. This makes them feel much safer. As long as there are travelers, we’ll be ok in my town. In my country. New driving restrictions are returning next weekend, apparently, as “cases” are on the rise again. The restrictions don’t change much for me personally because it’s not the same as a curfew. The curfew is for your car, and I don’t have one.

Wait, so are we “better” because of all the vaccinations? Or are restrictions increasing because we are “worse?” I’m confused.

Of the people I know who have died in the last year, one of them may have been from this virus. I spoke to my family in Milan, Italy where the situation is supposedly completely terrible. They are furious because they say have essentially been on house arrest for one year. I asked them how many people they know who have died from the virus. They said two. Ok, wait. I’m confused.

I must be very very lucky.

Lucky

I am very very lucky. I am aware of that.

Immunology

I can’t help it. I have to go there. I’m very lucky. I live in a town where we can be outside in the sun all year long. We can run around barefooted. We are allowed to breathe air. We can get in the salt water every day if we decide to. We get dirt under our fingernails, inhale god-only-knows-what in the dust every time a car goes by, and our pets who sleep in our beds run around in the gardens and on the streets and on the beaches. These things provide immeasurable benefits for our health. We hug each other and kiss each other. Yes we do. I imagine that most of us here have been exposed to this virus and I observe that all of us are doing just fine. So far. We wear our masks in stores and on public transportation because we have to, and any other place we feel like we want to, if we do. I don’t. But some people do. So far we haven’t had trouble respecting each other. If we lose that, we’ve got nothing.

Six Feet of Separation

And now we wait to see what happens next. I am waiting with the television off. I am pretty sure that when the apocalypse comes, I will recognize it. And if it’s a tv show, I might decide not to watch. I might decide to go surfing or take a nap in the hammock. I don’t really want anyone within six feet of me, anyway, at either of those times.

Some Great Vacuum

there are no poems
for you
only wind

the water has turned
cold as ice
the moon has
come and gone

there are no poems
for you
but there are dreams
in which you are different
now

stars have fallen
wind has moved
a million grains of sand

if words came i would
put them on paper
but there is
only wind

air rushing south
toward you
toward some great
vacuum

March Night

i want to die in the arms
of a March night
in Guanacaste.
heaven is close, then.
angels hover above dry trees
brushing branches with warm
breath.
chicharras
clutch tiny twigs
playing love songs on
transparent wings.

Noche de Marzo

quiero morir en los brazos
de una noche de marzo
en Guanacaste.
el cielo está cerca, entonces.
los ángeles aletean sobre los árboles secos
rozando las ramas con su aliento
tibio.
las chicharras,
agarradas de ramitas diminutas,
tocan canciones de amor con sus
alas transparentes.

The Bus Roared Like a Lion

when the bus pulled up
to take you away
to the airport
the driver who opened
the luggage hold for your
suitcases asked
where are you going
and said ustedes to us
even a stranger could see
in the half dark
we were nosotros
one two-headed creature
you answered
aeropuerto and kissed me
the bus swallowed you and
roared like a lion
as it tore us into
tú y yo

Amen, Cheers, Pass the Pancakes

I spent a long time over the weekend writing up a post for today. But I realized during the night that I don’t like it. Meh. It’s about trying to be present in the present, not lost in the past or the future. It’s readable, but I’m not feeling it this morning. I even translated it into Spanish. But I don’t think it quite hits the mark.

So, instead, I’ll tell you about the present.

I’m in Washington State, half way through a vacation/visit to my sister and her family. It’s very cold. My niece and nephews have grown from toddlers into 6-foot teenagers. One is in college, two are in high school. Their paternal grandmother is in the ICU with pneumonia and is not expected to recover.

Last year over the holidays in Tamarindo, I promised myself this trip. I kept my promise. But it’s not like I expected. Nothing is like any of us expected. I guess that’s what the blog post I tried to write says, in different words. My parents didn’t come this year. My friends here are keeping their distance. Of course. There are a lot more sick people in this climate than in Tamarindo. And I don’t want to get it now because I don’t want to miss my flight home. All of that said, I so love being hunkered down, cozy by the fire, with no where to rush off to. I think I spent way too many hours of my life rushing places.

The last Christmas I spent in the States was 5 years ago. Pio was with me.

Now, do you see why I have to write blog posts to myself about being present in the present, not lost in the past? Yeah.

Today is Monday. The last Monday in 2020. Everybody says they hope 2021 will be better. That would be awesome. I found a lot of things to love about 2020 but that’s just me. I’ve been lucky. I’ve also been unlucky.

I’m going to drive with my sister and my niece over the mountains to Seattle today. I’m thinking of applying for dual citizenship, and I need to be fingerprinted for an FBI report. I expect it will be a dull read lol but I have to do it. There’s an outlet mall that we all love on the way there. We’re leaving in an hour, and should be back by evening.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to snow again. Before the weekend we’ll be toasting Happy New Year and I may very possibly be attending a funeral. Or not. Next week I give my sister back all the sweaters and fuzzy pants I’ve been wearing, and head back to the land of summer.

So there you have it: a glimpse of the past, the present, and the immediate future. Something is about to happen. I don’t mean today, I mean really soon. I feel it. I hope I like it.

Amen.
Cheers.
Pass the pancakes.

Conozco Islas

vámonos de aquí
dejemos atrás la tierra firme
echémonos al mar
nuestra cuna, casa, ataúd
y avancemos hacia el horizonte
con brazadas fuertes

no temamos baby
al sol, a la luna
a los espacios líquidos
desconocidos

vámonos de aquí
te ruego
conozco islas
que desde aquí no se ven
conozco los dragones
a la orilla del mundo

no despidámonos más
excepto de la tierra
donde nos raspa el aire y
nos atrapa la gravedad

A Poem For The Kiss / Un Poema Para El Beso / Un Poesia Per Il Bacio


there must be a poem
for the kiss
a quiet poem
a gentle kiss
the one you don’t remember

she presses her lips to
your warm forehead
a terrible journey
is over and
silence begins
now

another poem might say
you seem to be
only asleep, but
not this one
this poem has
watched you through
a thousand sleeps and
knows the difference

her lips press your forehead
this last time
trembling

the doctors have
turned off the morphine and
you are free of
this destroyed flesh

they will bring her
your ring, later
to keep
in the poem
with the kiss


Un Poema Para El Beso

debe haber un poema
para el beso
un poema silencioso
un beso suave
el que tu no recuerdas

ella aprieta sus labios a
tu frente cálida
un viaje terrible
se ha terminado y
el silencio comienza
ahora

otro poema podría decir que
pareces estar
solo dormido, pero
este no
este poema te ha vigilado
mil veces
mientras duermes y
conoce la diferencia

los labios de ella tocan tu frente
esta última vez
temblando
los doctores han
apagado la morfina y
estás libre de
esta carne destruida

luego, ellos le llevarán
tu anillo
a ella
para guardar
en el poema
con el beso



Una Poesia Per Il Bacio

ci dovrebbe essere una poesia
per il bacio
una poesia a sottovoce
un bacio delicato
l’unico che non ricordi

lei preme le sue labbra
sulla tua fronte calda,
un viaggio terribile
è finito e
il silenzio inizia
ora

un’altra poesia direbbe
che sembri
solo addormentato
ma non questa
questa poesia ti ha
guardato mentre dormivi
mille volte e
sa la differenza

le sue labbra ti toccano la fronte
l’ultima volta
tremando
i dottori ti hanno tolto
la morfina e
tu sei libero da
questa carne distrutta

le porteranno
il tuo anello più tardi
per conservarlo
nella poesia
con il bacio