Let’s leave Arkham and Symonds hanging for at least a day, and since the snow has buried us here in Iowa (and since I found this earlier poem—actually a series of quick observations—composed during our visit to St. Martin in 1987), let’s slide comfortably southeastward for another dip in the Caribbean.It did indeed snow all day yesterday, and after shoveling once before dawn and again in the afternoon, another trip with snow tools in hand should be necessary this morning. All the schools were closed for Tuesday, and I haven’t yet attended to hear what today will bring. The East Coast is going to get hammered with amounts almost as bad as the past weekend. It’s time for a little vacation from all this snow.
Let’s return to the sunny shores of St. Martin/Sint Maarten, to which I introduced you a few days ago. I wrote both “First Day” and these four snippets while we were actually on location, unlike a lot of other verse and stuff that I put on paper long after.
We stayed at a resort in the small village of Grand Case, pretty well to the far north of the island. It had an excellent beach, where I experienced topless bathers for the first time—interesting, I guess, but awkward as I didn’t want to keep looking but… Janet told me later that one woman’s husband got very uncomfortable at how I was staring while out in the ocean. That struck her as very funny: I can’t wear my glasses while swimming, so whatever I was looking toward (probably seeking Janet) I couldn’t see anything, and I was not looking at his bare-breasted (and attractive) wife. I was effectively blind; everything further than a foot from my face was simply a multicolored blur.
We enjoyed the remoteness and the smallness of the place. We chose to walk into town for dinner several nights, acquiring my first taste of Vietnamese cuisine on one of those visits. We also shopped at a little grocery for canned clams, tomato sauce and wine to make ourselves a Sunday night dinner once. Our hotel featured a restaurant on the headland that hung out over the breakers, but we wanted some variety, thus the town visits. There was also a lively bar/beach-activities center/boat vendor in town that gave us at least one warm, tipsy afternoon of fun. After dusk, walking was easy and pleasant, whereas going anywhere in the early afternoon was miserable in the tropical heat.
One day during our week-long vacation, Janet and I took a chauffeured trip around the island, visiting the French-side city of Marigot and traveling in the afternoon on to the major cruise-ship port at Philipsburg. We shopped a little in Marigot and ate a pleasant lunch. Dutch-side Philipsburg was a crush of pushy tourists off the cruise ships (three, I think, in harbor that day) and except for a lot of heat and annoyance at our countrymen abroad, forgettable. I remember the drive back home was far longer than I had expected, and we arrived long after dark that day—probably to change and walk into town for a very late dinner.
Most of these verses came from that trip around the island. I posted a map this time because you can see where the locations of importance are (Marigot and Philipsburg marked in white boxes, Grand Case to the northeast—the long, wide, shallow bay). The only airport in our day was to Philipsburg or Marigot, I believe (unlike Grand Case having its own now).
Once again in the poem(s), notice the brightness stunning me (the speaker), as later opposed to the interiors of shops and restaurants. Some of the observations come from lying on the beach, looking at sights other than nearby sunbathers.
white waves whispering on white sand:
the silken sunlight
overfills the bowl of headland, sea and air—
and hisses on the solid sand.
birds soar on batswings
silhouettes on greywhite cloud faces
shuffling quickly contrary the bluff wind
out to sea.
bright air bursts with wet warmth
unlike the flame igniting her cigarette.
we pause bemused amidst stalled traffic—
a single file of polite Japanese cars,
corpuscles pumping in these capillary streets,
and we, the nutrients deposited alongside,
pass into cool cells of shops and restaurants
to spend our cash.
returning through sunoven afternoon air
to the minibus taxi‘s no cooler interior,
and like exhausted sportsmen, staring at our shoes,
rewind our lines, narrow roads spiralling to the beach.
15 June 1987
The poem reminds me that our taxi around the island was a minibus, also that in those distant days both Janet and I smoked (she would be the “her” in line 11). I guess that just made us fit right in with all the French tourists and Frenchified locals. Now I am wondering how smokey the lifestyle there is, having heard that even in France, people smoke less in public places (my European experience in Prague last fall to the contrary.) If you bothered with any of the links about St. Martin and Grand Case, I felt interested at how little the resort has changed but how much the town has grown—lots more restaurants, and only about two of those seemed the same as 23 years ago.
Numbers 1 and 2 are from beach outings, while 3 and 4 concern the trip around the island.
Enjoy the imaginary/remembered warmth, as I hear the Midwest gets another arctic blast for the next many days.
Unless something unexpected arises, it’s probably back to Quetzal County for tomorrow.