Playa Flamingo

by Franz K. Baskett

The ever-hooded tragic gestured sea.

—Wallace Stevens


When you leave your life behind you

Waving bills on the runway

And go with small baggage

To a place like this

Your alternatives diminish wonderfully.


You can eat or beach comb,

Always read or sleep slow as a conch,

Fish the skiff off the catalinas

In waters like boiling jade.

You can go to the room above the beach

And make love on the battered bed.

Simplicity improves focus.


It is easier to tell what’s important:

The hard mattress and the rough sheets,

The bodies twining, sliding,

The brown skin sugared with salt.



Sitting before the Pacific,

I know it is a mournful sea

For all this blue and light

So strong even this short stay

Will fill me with regret.


Tiny hermit crabs in minute shells

Cluster and teem in the deepest,

Wettest shade, and giant sand wasps,

Big as my thumb, blue-black,

Patrol the stretches shielded

From the constant wind.


This beautiful, mournful sea,

Like a young widow.


There is deep sadness in the cold current

That brings a rich soup here, to the fish,

To the brown pelicans circling like minutes,

The round bay of Playa Flamingo.



Beside the boat in the indigo wash

Among hanks of diesel smoke

Things like starfish

Have you by your spear.


Held half out by the mates,

They turn the sailfish

So that he sees me.

I lean over the gunwale

And we lock gazes.

Flat eye arcs to round eye

And I rock back,

Then look again.


Iridescent victim

That deception and strength

Machinery and wealth

Have prevailed upon

And hauled into the raving air,

What do you see

In that thin head?

Do you know more now

Of the community of predators?


Flipping the hook out,

The angels let you go.



It is the restless end of the dry season.

Every night, fires run in the hills

That ring the sanctuary bay,

Set by farmers to burn the underbrush.

This happens every year. North,

A big one’s burned all week

In a valley behind a pastel villa

In its dark banana grove

Flames sharpen the saw-toothed ridges.


I dreamed my neighbor’s house burned down.

Enough to bring me up on deck at three.


South, over Colombia, the Milky Way

Is as distinct as I have ever seen it.

The full sweep of creation.

On the eroded quay, a single gas pump

Stands under a single light that sways

And – if you listen perfectly – squeaks.

The half moon paints the swell it causes

With cream glitter. The boat nods west.

The fires perfume the constant wind.


Go back down to sleep. To sleep.

It is the restless end of the dry season.



Coming to a place

We must take care

To see it


Thing and eye and time

Intersecting in the instant

Boom, boom, boom


But we must not see it as film

Our bad habit

Flat celluloid lifeless brittle


We must see it as we are

In the round juicy inside

Shaking off light


In every direction

Light flashing off our sides

Like this Pompano at the end of my line


Held up in the sun

And the bright laughter of women.



The wind riffles the pages of Elizabeth Bishop

Here beside me on the deck.

Big Liz, as we call her

Back home in the Ozarks.




Back home the children

Will have grown two inches

In two weeks, free

Of our intent to keep them

Small and safe,

Ourselves young.


When we return

There will be more time in their eyes

Than we will have been gone.


When they ask what I did in Costa Rica,

I’ll tell them I sat on the deck of a morning

And drank the tarry coffee

And the thick juice of mangos

And the wind riffled the pages of a book

And out flew an enormous fish

And a rain forest and a plane ride

At night into a city ringed by volcanoes.


I’ll tell them that the world is good

And awaits them and mornings are there,

Mystical as a house beside a waterfall.


I am a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas. My poetry has appeared in the Southern Review, The Pacific Review, The New Orleans Review, The Houston Literary Review and Grey Sparrow Journal, et al. My book, The Accident Prone Man, was published in 1994 by Orchises Press of Washington, D.C. I am the winner of the Raymond L. Barnes Award and The Academy of American Poets Prize. I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas where I work in the newspaper industry.

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