The Painter Tamayo and All-Inclusives

by Richard Swanson


The Painter Tamayo

Here’s a probably true story
about Ruffino Tamayo, the Mexican painter
after the titans Rivera, Orozco, and Sigueiros,
world famous Tamayo, the painter of tragic tableaux,
rich vistas and youthful faces innocent as tangerines,
except that sometimes there’s mischief in that innocence.
A wealthy Mexican man approaches Tamayo
to capture the tropical landscapes of his mountainside house.
Young, his ego’s as big as the house, and the house
is half as big as the mountain.
Old Ruffino, in age that is, visits the place and agrees
to paint the hills. But first he has to absorb it, he says,
all this green, so he walks the terrain.

The wealthy man smiles, seeing this.
He owns it all now, house, mountain and a famous painter.

Then, three times, the following happens.
From the city Ruffino calls, telling the man
to hire a helicopter and pick him up.

Yes, I need a helicopter, Tamayo is adamant.
I need to see the mountainside greens from the air.

Well, sure, maestro, but . . .
These whirligigs don’t come cheap, and—
Rich Guy’s not as wealthy as he lets on.
Besides, he wonders, does my painter
like helicopter rides like kids like chocolate.

Tamayo’s waving up there, waving.
Wave back. He’s your painter, rich man.

The great unveiling day!
Mister Mountainous Ego anticipates.
One whole floor of his house has been redone
for Tamayo’s verdant vision.

So off with the canvass’s cover, and here it is—
red? Red here, more red there, in all the quadrants,
hot red, sly red, off-color joke red, mocking, bordello red,
not a spit of green in any part of the landscape.

Tamayo! Maestro! the wealthy man gapes,
you loved all the greens, where are my greens?

Ah, those, Ruffino says, his finger tapping his skull,
they’re up here.



They love the arrangements, airport transport to here,
luggage processed right to their rooms, which were
bleached-white clean, with towels on beds
shaped into rabbits and swans, cute swans,
and all their meals provided.

Plus, right before dinner, poolside, after a hard day’s tanning,
a happy hour trolley comes ‘round ( ding-ding, ding-ding)
with pitchers of margaritas. Oh, those margaritas.

Some of the help try to speak English, funny kind of,
but, hey, give them credit for trying: You like? Treeps?
Two-LOOM? CHEECH-‘n-EAT-cha?

You couldn’t get care like this back home, they repeat
to one another: palápa lunches, nighttime shows
in the Mayan outdoor theater, the small incidentals—
chocolate nibbles next to the day’s shampoo.

Last night the hotel shuttle bussed them to town
for Texas burghers, a place with Spanish flamenco.

It was good to go there, they agree, to see the real Mexico.


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Richard Swanson, a retired teacher of English from Madison, Wisconsin, spends three weeks in Valladolid and Akumal every February. He was first attracted to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan on a visit to Playa del Carmen, decades ago, when the place was a a series of four or five unpaved streets.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


photo by Angela M Campbell


Flight and other poems

by Richard Swanson



The airport just slightly larger than a soccer field,
the runway heading off into jungle, back then,
our plane a prop-driven thing seating eight,

we waited out on the grassy tarmac, resigned,
with a smirking recognition of veteran travelers:
departure delayed only half an hour,
a brand new record in a Latin time zone.

Then the town’s lone ambulance came down the runway,
siren blaring, crossing the field toward the plane – us –
skidding right up to its nose cone.

Alarmed, we looked at each other.
Was someone stricken? a fellow flyer? the pilot?

The ambulance crew poured out, equipment in hand,
flexible cables, red and black tipped, with crocodile clips.
Those couldn’t be what we thought, could they?

The guys were highly efficient, removing the engine
cowling , lifting the ambulance hood.

In no time at all we were jump-start connected.
the Pratt Whitney engine coughing to life,
its pistons blowing off built-up dust.

Down the runway we sped. Up and off we went.
Whew, what a relief, we thought.
It could have been something serious.



They’re making their way, the hermit crabs
off the sand, over the beachfront condo patio tiles
toward the left-out cat food.



He’s a gardener, Mayan face as soft as the petals
on hibiscus flowers he tends.

All those years he’s done the after-work extras:
mended the screen for the New York señora,
painted a chair for the Canada couple,
washed the rental car for the British businessman.

He could have savored his weekends like all the others,
workers like him, without education –
sat in the shade of an almendro tree a little.

Instead he’s been putting in hot-sun hours,
tucking away pesos for his boys, the family’s future,
their lives which will be so much better than his.

So happy he is, as they wave goodbye at the bus station,
off to the school at last, the polytechnic hours away,
with its outrageous tuition.

They’re back unexpected, one week later,
sheepish a little but resolute: They’re home for good.
they tell their father.

Why, why, why? he cries. Tell me, my hijos,
I don’t understand. All my work for you, sons!

Papa, they tell him, can’t you see? It’s so simple.
We missed you.





Since the mid-eighties, when Playa del Carmen was a town of 1200 people, Richard Swanson has spent extended time in Quintana Roo and the Yucatan. His three poems included here are part of a chapbook of Mexican life he’s still writing. The author of “Men in the Nude in Socks,” “Not Quite Eden,” and the recent “Paparazzi Moments”
(all from Fireweed Press), he publishes regularly, in print and on-line.

Photo by Eleanor Leonne Bennett