small textlarge text

Jessica Tyner


Ocean water began chewing and spitting
out what became the Venado caves thirty
million years ago, almost as long
as I've loved you. Guatusos aborigines were first
to slice their slim perfect limbs
through the dark, sliding callused fingers
against the jaw fossils of humpback whales
trapped in a scream along the caverns.
Caves don't swallow people, that's a lie
slipped through swollen brown lips
and I'm supposed to be grateful
to be one of the first people to crawl
on hands and knees
through bat guano while the little beasts
beat their wings, furious and terrified
above me. This is what I've done
for you. Felt the brush
of tarantula legs
on my thigh, the sickening crush
of a bloated cockroach under my palm,
completely unseeing and reaching
for whatever might reach back.
There's no light at the end of the tunnel.
Everything circles back to where it began,
and for one long minute I have to stand
between the splayed legs
of what should have stayed buried at sea
so my eyes don't burst into blindness
from the sheer brightness of it all.

The Sacrament

When I was five, I sat with my mother
through the cloying night listening
for the crunch
of his tires gnawing through
gravel. She kept silent,
thumbing the phone,
as I chawed
through piece after piece
of buttered toast and jam,
my gluttony of Eucharist. It was sacred,
our secret,
watchdogs in the dark.

Holy Week at Playa Negra

In patchwork Spanish I bought us
two bus tickets to Puerto Viejo.
For five hours a woman's dreadlocks
sketched elaborate maps
into sweat that buttered my forearm
every time she slipped her baby
upside down to change a diaper
with the grace and instinct
of a dancer. The black sand
burned through my feet while you told me
how to catch a wave. You have to wait
for the perfect one, swelling
like leaking breasts, diving
into the underbelly and slicing
through to the calm.
I've never been good
at waiting or ducking, what a heartbreak
to miss the crash. The ocean floor
devoured my face, ate into a cheek,
and filled my throat
with burning salt water.
On the way back to the hotel,
you held my hand and I wished
that it was his, oversized and hungry.
A sinewy man carved a coconut
with a machete
as carefully as a skilled lover
undresses their young darling.
Sand is made from defeated
rocks, bones of fish
and I wanted nothing more
than to drink down my shame
with that bowed-back man's
sun warm milk.

➥ Bio