Monday, December 1, 2008

P.F. Potvin Week: Day 1

Today starts a week of blog entries by P.F. Potvin, an accomplished poet. He is an Ultramarathon runner and is the author of The Attention Lesson (No Tell Books). His writing has appeared in Boston Review, coconut, Sentence, Born Magazine, No Tell Motel, and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and travels whenever possible to support his writing. Discover more of his adventures at

December 1 and I already need to escape. The Ann Arbor winter with sleeting cold but little snow. Escape back to Panama. Boquete, to be exact. Warm without the blaze. Sweet Boquete, the mountain town in the north where I hiked, met crazy Panamanian birders, toured organic coffee plantations, and spent hours reclined with steaming cups of joe, scribbling in my red notebook under the eye of the looming volcano.

Even then I was escaping. From my summer studying Spanish literature at a language school in San Jose, Costa Rica. I'd gone there because a professor knew a friend who knew the grandson of the Cuban writer whose book I had translated but couldn't publish because I couldn't get the rights. I was assured that the friend of the friend would certainly help me. I quickly discovered that everyone teaching at the language school in San Jose knew somebody who knew somebody and knowing didn't mean squat. It only meant that you had shaken the person's hand or kissed them customarily on the cheek sometime in your long and complicated life.

Anyway, after spending my weekends puking from bus windows en route to swarming beaches where everyone either spoke English or wanted to "practice" some variation of "You want marijuana? You want girl?, You want coke?" Boquete was exactly what I needed.

While I found Costa Rica to be obscenely in-your-face touristy, Boquete has retained most of its charm. As a gringo, I can't help but shy away from what I know and see and experience in my everyday gringtopia back home. That's part of the lure of travel, the unexpected.

Although the gringos have yet to completely overrun the place, I could certainly see our telltale markings on signs as I bussed into town. International firms have purchased entire swaths of land on the mountainsides, invisible from the surrounding roads. They've branded them with ludicrous names like Valley Escondido I and Valley Escondido II (Hidden Valley I and II), as though the name could keep them like Frodo's ring, secret and safe from the surrounding residents and poverty.

One place I did spy gringos, however, was outside the single market store. I stopped across the street at a café first thing after hopping off the bus. I drooled over the entire menu as I prepared to lay down a night's worth of greenbacks. That's right. American coin. But that's another story. Just as I was settling in, several gringo men older than my grandfather caught my eye. They were strolling by, hand in hand with prepubescent native Lolitas. Just the thought made me sour. When the waitress finally twirled out of the kitchen, all I could stomach to order was a chocolate milkshake, which is just as it sounds, milk + chocolate + agitation.

As I sat waiting, I gazed in the direction of Barú, Panama's highest volcano. It was swaddled in clouds, but the following day I planned to hike the winding roads directly up from Boquete. A fellow student in San Jose had told me he went on an overnight guided backpacking trip up the volcano. When I pressed him for details, he confessed that an ATV had carried almost all of the equipment. As I usually look and smell like a mule when backpacking around my fair town, I found his method strange but managed to maintain my strategically poker face.

Although the place I wanted to stay in was completely booked, I found lodging a block further down the dirt road at a small hospedaje (house that rents rooms). My room shared a common area and kitchen with two other rooms. I slept solid, rising before the sun to my chirping wristwatch and readied my daypack to trek to the top of Barú.

Then I heard a woman scream.

Before the Dogs Get Deep

Pitchforked, a boy of eight struts from his mother's hospedaje. He sweats the muddy cul-de-sac to end where the bony dogs crouch in deveined pipes. As he toes the tines, a fer-de-lance that slickcircled the bowl the tourist fled from squatting upon, tumbles limp like the veil, "Only a snake, Miss." It's all he can recall before the dogs perk, pack, and get deep their teeth.

To be continued…

Before the Dogs Get Deep appeared in Sleepingfish .875

New Work by P.F. Potvin in the most recent issue of Sleepingfish ZZZ

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