Thirty-five years ago, I wrote a poem after my memorable adventure in Cobá, Mexico, in the summer of 1985. Laying solemnly unattended in a folder on my computer, it has haunted me over the years. Today, I recalled my surreal experience when I wrote the poem, remembering the physical parts of the Cobá experience, and then the magic I added.
In 1986, also, I was finishing up my coursework at Colorado State University. We studied magical realism in my Spanish classes, looking at the works of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. This genre fascinated me—reality with a dash of magic.
So, what is magical realism:
Magical realism is a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. Magical realism is a part of the realism genre of fiction.
Within a work of magical realism, the world is still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world. Like fairy tales, magical realism novels and short stories blur the line between fantasy and reality.https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-magical-realism#what-is-magical-realism
For several years, the Mayan culture and the Yucatán peninsula captured my attention, so I visited many Mayan Indian ruins there: Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum, and Cobá. During tours at each ruin, I took copious notes. I bought several books and read about the Mayans, their culture and beliefs and absorbed details.
During our 1985 trip to Cobá, much of it lay overgrown with heavy jungle vegetation. Lynn Hafer, my travel companion and I stayed at a Club Med hotel nearby, but it wasn’t a “Swinging Singles’” Club Med infamous at the time but a research facility with a full library and a quiet, somber setting. Because of its remote location, the Mexican government had not commercialized Cobá yet, so what a raw jungle experience we had!
In 1991 I continued my Mayan treks. To celebrate my completion of my master’s degree, Lynn and I went to Guatemala to one of the largest Mayan Indian ruins, Tikal, a dream come true for this Mayan ruin lover. However, my experience, noted in this poem at Cobá, regularly surfaced and haunted me, so I thought I’d share it with you. In looking at it today, I felt the call to revise!
Cobá—I Was there!!
Written – March, 1986
Revised – July 25, 2021
The year was 1985. Walking down an overgrown jungle path with my friend, toucan birds squeak above my head nestled in the canopy. A turn in the road, thick over-growth blocks the sun for a minute. Shadows, sounds, smells-- transported me back to 900 A.D. A shiver pierces my soul. I stare at crumbled ruins while an iguana lazily poses on a low step, large but approachable. Colorful in dress, Mayans step out of the past and the bushes, brush my arm. I strain to see their faces and to hear their voices. Is it real? The bees buzz in the tops of the Trees among the orchids that Decorate the canopy With their color. The bees’ hum above Joins the voices below. Where am I? When? With whom? A step back in time, yet caught between Two worlds—then and now! Had I been here before? At this spot, Centuries before, Standing at the foot of this Temple, surrounded by my fellow Mayans, Worshipping the god "Chac" and Listening to the familiar Squeak of birds and the laughter of howling monkeys. The smell of Copal, sweet incense, fills the air The mingled Odor of honey and grain, My sacrifice to my god. A bright fire illumines the scene With reflections and smoke. The drums beat—beat—beat a familiar steady cadence. Draw me to them. The Mayan priests chant—chant—chant soft sounds that join the Bass beat of the drums. The Mayan language a mystery to me, Yet I know it’s deep meaning. I sway to the beat—the chant. It vibrates in my soul calling me forth Through the ages, Past time’s illusive barrier! Dark bronze skins glisten in the firelight. Brown eyes search our faces for safety. Flat heads surprise me with their symmetry. I marvel at the feathery headdresses with multiple colorful gowns. I join the celebration, The ceremony! Small sturdy people crowd around me, Greet me in a soft rhythmic tongue. Gently, friendly—a spark shines in Their eyes with recognition! THEY KNOW ME! I'm among my own. I'm home!!! But it can’t be! I grew up in Colorado Not Mexico Not centuries ago Not Mayan "Did you hear that? What was that?" my friend grabs My arm. TRANSPORTED BACK TO REALITY, or is it? I'm back—1985. The summer's heat presses in, The sun's scorching heat Eerie sounds and hums flow Through the air. Eerie, yet familiar. I strain to hear it better To hear the beat of the past To see those familiar brown eyes. I want to return! But can I?
Déjà vu? A poem capturing my experience or a fictional treatment? I can’t explain what happened that day so many years ago, but I know it was surreal. My poetry helped me express what I felt, not exactly what I saw. When I wrote the poem, the total experience happened. For years, this poem haunted me with its expression of possibility. I believe there’s unexplainable mystery in this world. Maybe that’s why I am attracted to the genre of magical realism and the chance that I witnessed a Mayan ceremony so many centuries ago.
A mystery happened this afternoon. I planned to use pictures from that 1985 trip to Cobá, but I couldn’t find my photo album. I found pictures from our second trip to Cobá 1986. Historically, I take lots of pictures on any trip—what happened to that album? Another puzzle added here—I wonder?
Have you ever had an unexplainable experience like mine? What happened? How did you honor it and record it? (Scroll below to make a comment)
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