Poems of Costa Rica
By Peggy Shumaker


Cousins, then,
the myriad orchids
of the mist forest
and this towering
strangler fig.

Both start
tenuous life
as stowaways
tossed aside
by wind or wing

without anyone’s
high above
the forest floor.

Air plants,
epiphytes, bromeliads
plastered so heavy
some branches
crack, tumble.

But the fig’s patient.
It settles in,
sucks what it can
from leaf rot, from
breaks in bark,

drinks deep
from fine mist.
Then into air
fig tentacles
unfurl, aiming

toward the host’s
small patch of soil.
Fig leaves above
cover all else.
Not out of modesty.

Each fig takes its own
special wasp
to carry on,
wasp that swaps
pollen for protection.

Nearly gone,
the host lingers
within the fig
like the memory
of a difficult parent

who never knew
what she was taking on
when she got you,
mother who resented
being tied down,

mother whose face
you can’t quite
picture, mother
who changed so much
those last years

you barely knew her,
broken mother
asthmatic, wheezy,
who gave her all
so you might live.


The parents, like most parents, yell.
A lot. But little ones hang
by the tips of their tails,

sail off into space, misjudge
the next branch,
crash through

limbs and leaves,

carry on
as if they’ve got a lifetime
maybe more.

Mangoes ripe
right now
drip down their elbows.

has yet
to occur to them.

                              Río Sarapiquí


Purely practical, we know,
her need to hold herself open

to let what sun she can catch
ease the river from her wings.

And yet. And yet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

See Peggy Shumaker Read in New York 8/20/2013:
Tuesday, August 20th
Word for Word Poetry welcomes Red Hen Press
Bryant Park Reading Room
7:00pm – 8:30pm | Bryant Park Reading Room, 41 W. 40th St.
42nd Street & 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10110
Featuring Peggy Shumaker, Ron Carlson, Evie Shockley, and Tess Taylor

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Today’s poems are from Toucan Nest (Red Hen Press, 2013), and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Praise for Toucan Nest: “This is a book of burnished, lapidary attention. Its poems—vibrant with seeing, quickened with soundwork, subtled by insight—peel open landscapes both outer and inner. The costs of our human presence and extractions are in these pages, but also the radiant return of human awareness. Toucan Nest is a unique account of encounter, imaginative inquiry, and expansion.” — Jane Hirshfield, author of After and Given Sugar, Given Salt

Peggy Shumaker is Alaska State Writer Laureate. Her most recent book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. Toucan Nest grew from an eco-arts writing workshop in Costa Rica. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publishers of fine art and literature from Alaska. She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press. Please visit her website at

Editor’s Note: Having had the pleasure of both sharing Peggy Shumaker’s work on the series before and seeing her read, I could not pass up an opportunity to both feature some pieces from Shumaker’s latest collection and to strongly encourage those of you who are in the New York area to go see her read on Tuesday. Red Hen Press is a fantastic publisher renowned for the quality of the women writers they publish, and Shumaker’s reading on Tuesday promises to be both powerful and moving while taking you, as Toucan Nest does, on a vibrant journey.

Want to see more by Peggy Shumaker?
Come see the poet read this Tuesday, August 20th, in Bryant Park
Poet’s Official Website
Author Page at Red Hen Press


  1. Lovely! The final stanza of the first poem certainly resonates for this aging over-sixty-year-old (who feels, as my paternal grandmother once told my brother, forever nineteen!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s