Panama City

1. Ilsa Taboga

The Island of Flowers. A small volcanic landmass off the eastern coast of Panama City.

According to a local legend, it was once assaulted by a fleet of black-sailed pirate ships, jealous of the island’s natural bounty and colorful beauty. The islanders, untrained and ill-equipped to handle such an invasion, nevertheless, amassed themselves on the shores to defend their home. Their numbers reached only into the dozens. The pirates, spotting such meager defenses, sent but one ship from their flotilla to attack. However, as this ship approached, the dozens became hundreds. These hundreds stretched to thousands. The ship’s commander did not know what to make of this, and continued, convinced it was some sort of mirage or local trickery. But a beautiful woman appeared on his bow. Her eyes were the color of the sea and her hair was the color of the shaded mist beneath the northern hills. She pointed them back out to sea. This vision terrified the pirates, who were a very superstitious group. Thinking her the goddess of these people and their land, they fled. The descendants of these people believe this woman to be La Virgin del Carmen and celebrate the day of her victory every July 16th.

Evil branches
clicking gently as tongues in the rippled breeze


2.The Kuna

The Kuna are a tribal nation that live in pockets about the city, but mostly on several islands close to the coast. They believe in tiny malevolent insect-looking spirits, poni, who haunt the soul of their world. They dress up for tourists and stalk about the old city proper in driftwood masks of dull earth tones and matte blue. The masks are like dragon skulls or nightmarishly elongated deer faces. They will twirl about in coarse woven shawls and tap canes with palms outstretched if you approach too closely. It is for money for a photo.

Some have small wooden dolls knotted to their waists. These are nuchas; they protect from the poni.

Have you ever seen a molas?
She asks   fingering
The thick cloth and pimpled seams.
They each tell  a story
Like this—  (for example)  this bird.
The family is stitched within its plumage
They are held within its  dream of flight.
(How much? Twenty-five, no. Twenty, dos diez, uh-veinte. Yes, OK, thanks. Gracias.)


3. Casco Antigua

The old city. Spanish chapels crooked like broken teeth in the sand and lavender-pebbled soil. Skeleton villas burnt yellow and shaded in the tropical evening. The sky is forever pale soot in every direction. It storms often. She smokes a rough waxy leaf-rolled cigar on the seaside plaza wall. Hair slick as dewed fire in the pinking dusk along the Atlantic shore. How about ceviche, she asks, I could go for something…citrusy. Fresh. We share a thin wooden bowl in the damp heat outside the Plaza de la Independencia. It is an open-air café, no menus, looped cursive blackboard specials. The spoons are large-headed, sanded smooth and also wooden, slight and shallow to cradle the fish meat without capturing too much broth. I order a Balboa beer for seventy-five cents. We share sips and trace waves in the dust below our stools.

  Like nothing
absence can be voluminous
fractured wheatlight—

blue-glistening boughs
cacophonous green.

GARRETT DE TEMPLE received his MFA from Manhattanville College in 2014. His work has recently appeared in Buddy (a lit zine), After the Pause, and Permafrost. He is a lyricist for the Brooklyn-based songwriting duo The Point ( and one-half of the occasional glam-Americana band SkyMagik.