Poems by Loretta Collins Klobah

Image Courtesy of Art Slegel. Shared via Creative Commons license.


Night of Charcoal Sky and Sea
One dim pole-lamp
——————-lit the malecón.
— raining.
—————-Dollar bills
——-were water-glued to the pavement.
Soaked money,
——–I looked,
—–but I didn’t pick it up.
I kept walking alone
———————-along the malecón.
A man’s shadow followed me,
————————close at my elbow.
He wore a knit cap,
—————–a green army jacket.
He was close to my book bag.
My wallet
—–was on the ground, but
—————————–I couldn’t find it.
He spoke in a quiet voice.
—————————He wanted money.
——He smiled once.
I told him
——–about the wet dollars,
——————-on the malecón.
He looked back,
——————-but leaned on my elbow.
I was walking, and, then,
———————-he wasn’t there. I heard
the sea; it sounded like
—————it would crest onto the malecón.
I walked to El Makito.
————-No fishermen were docked,
———–or dozing in their boats.
I stood at the rail of the malecón.
——–Wave spray hit my face.

A friend
————whom I used to desire
—-was holding a miniature rabbit.
We were in front of a house
———–far from where I lived.
She was my soft rabbit,
———–so I took her from him.
She climbed
——–onto my shoulders
and half-slipped out of my hands. Then,
there were dogs.
First, a small mutt
———-growling and trying to lunge.
Sunlight was intense.
————A German shepherd ran
——-across the grass.
I blocked him with my hip.
————I wanted to punch his head.
His mouth was trying to bite,
———his long nose coming at me.
He harried me,
————-jumping against me.
——The rabbit was slipping
———in my grip.
I called the woman to get her dogs.
——–She stood
———-in a yellow dress and red apron
in the bright doorway of her house.
She didn’t call the dogs.
———————-She just looked at me
from across her front lawn.
——————-And then, she called
the monster, Dante, Dante, Dante.

I was at the pier at twilight.
A woman at the boat ramp
———walked into the dark water.
——————She put her small son
——–into a kayak the size of a yellow cradle.
The slate water was lit
——-only with one long line of golden light.
Each small wave in the beam-path
————–was shining.
Wooden logs and wooden telephone poles, charred
———–like coal and saturated with creosote,
——floated in the congested water.
———–They bumped
against each other,
————–those tossing poles.
She walked amidst them
—-through the rocking water.
—————There was a long fish—
gun gray— shaped
—–like a heavy barracuda or a pike,
———-holding still
——————against the current,
a few feet away from the woman.
She was singing
——————–a lullaby.
———It rose up over the waves.
———–I could hear it.
——————–It was soothing, but
——-not something
I had heard before.
——–I think she was improvising.
———–She was breast-high
—————–in the water, and walking.
——–The wooden beams rolled
—————over her. She shifted
—–the kayak and infant over each black log,
still wading to the open sea.
I saw a fish as long as a telephone pole.
—————–I don’t think it was alive.
——–It, too, was charred
———-and tar-smudged in thick creosote.
It floated side-by-side with the poles.
————-The boy saw the fish
———–and shouted out to his mother.
She kept humming and moving out into the sea.


He Talks to a Butterfly
Joe harvests eggs in the copulario,
where monarchs and orange fritillaries
achieve butterfly positions
without the Karma Sutra, profusely
boogalooing in air. Male claspers
grapple la mariposa’s ductus bursae,
on milkweed tufts and passion vines,
to the sad boleros and waltzes
of Paquitin Soto and his trio singers,
which Joe plays over loud speakers.
He watches butterfly lovers
bumble romance, clumsily
facing away from each other.

Joe tends caterpillars wagging tentacles
as they shimmy along his fingers, and when
new butterflies arrive head-down into the world,
like we do, he flings open barn windows
of the gray loft to liberate them
into netted ginger-lily gardens of the mariposario.

He is the caretaker of this low-security pen,
where more sailing refugees escape
than stay hemmed in. A free colony
of hundreds roosts in windbreak trees
at the edge of the pasture. A platoon
of butterflies searches
the mesh tent for a way back
into paradise.

Released from prison into the butterfly farm,
Joe came here as an ex-confinado.
A monarch egg has a 10% chance,
maybe a 3% chance, of producing an adult
who survives. Eighty prisoners
were released into the farm
to mind the garden, to look with wonder
at life having its own way,
at wings floating
in the Koi fish pond.

Joe is the one who stayed,
even after funds for the program
dried up in the next election.

Monarch caterpillars
eat a milkweed leaf each day
and the vivero can’t produce enough.

So every weekend, Joe drives
along the island’s north coast, looking
for more milkweed plants.

Two purple scars
indent his cheek, as if flaming fingers
once held his face, trying to crush it—
slug holes somewhat healed.

When he explains why he still shows up
at the farm to do what he can
for orphaned winged things,
he just says, Me fascina.

———One day, someone will arrive
———to take the keys away from him
———and shut the place down.

For now, a butterfly grips his fingertip.
It flutters, lifting high over red lilies,
humming, sotto voce, a bolero, me voy lejos
de aquí, voy con el alma hecha pedazos
ni tú me olvidarás ni yo te olvidaré…


Country Dance in Cayey
Pig skin crackle in the glass display case—
blood sausage, batatas, arroz y gandules
forked onto our plates.

A motorcycle club hunches over the bar,
renegade dads in their weekend black leather.

Medalla bottles line a ledge between a teen boy and girl.
The barrista keeps a boa constrictor curled around his neck.

Sunday at El Nuevo Rancho, with a band on the tarima
cooking hot bachata, merengue and salsa.

Grandma, tías, toddlers, and a few moms sway
suavecito on the open-air dance floor.

When the group of four shows up, they aren’t here
to eat or drink. The girl in shredded shorts and croptop
has Marilyn Monroe tattooed on one thick thigh.

The young men, bailarines, parejas abrazadas,
couple dance together , voluptuously.

They are all fluttering flick of hands, arms in arabesque,
elegant swing, one leading the other into the mambo.

One cups his hand on neck of the other for the spin-out copa.
In this mountain lechonera on a Sunday afternoon,
they might be the best salseros any of us have ever seen.

I look to the bar, to the faces of the men in leather,
the borrachos, the barrista and his snake.

I’m looking for a fight that isn’t there.
In fact, a man at the bar heads to the dance floor.

He wants to cut-in on the entwined men,
but his gangly embrace is quickly brushed off.

Until the four move on to the next lechonera,
we are lifted by them into a mood of tenderness.

The clave beat is happy, a pulse throbbing
through us— slap slap slap slap slap—like this.


The woman you are looking for might have been removed,
had her name changed, or is temporarily unavailable

Please try the following: Click a button in your browser to find a link to me, a woman who sits at her
kitchen table past midnight, Eddie Palmieri always playing on her radio.

-The coquis and pond frogs sing outside her window. Mami told me there would be nights like this,
they sing, when even storm clouds refuse you.

-Sir, what are you browsing for? A Río Piedras school girl in Catholic plaid miniskirt, with two jump
rope braids and white anklet socks? Midday, I meet him on the street. I ask, “Is that your daughter?”
He says, “No.” I say, “Is that your daughter?” He says, “I was just taking her back to school.”

-You see, it takes time to brush my hair, dress in nightclothes that open like top sails, drifting me past
your arms to the bay. School girls are ready—waiting for you every afternoon.

-The coquís are singing bon voyage songs. Adiós, little school girl in a dark tunic. The moon clock above
the bank strikes el mediodía. You are there, girl, in his room above the bank in the plaza.

-So tonight, I sit up late, and I think about when I was a girl. The small town library basement was cool
and dark. I stacked my books high and read in the afternoons until my father packed away his hammer
and left work. My mother was sick, always sleeping or talking with spirits that rode her body endlessly.

-I loved the sea. The rough, lava-formed ledges that blocked off tidal pools. Microscopic animals in the
sea water I took to school in a jar.

-Use any search engine you like. You’ll never find that school girl’s name.

-I am a brass bed going rusty. For I think it is a gift to have time for reading and thinking and going to
school, despite the small torments of the playground.

-Look for the webpage where one school girl (is she even eleven years old?) is dividing her day by what
happens before and after the white moon of that bank clock strikes noon.

-The woman you are looking for is not a woman yet.

-Sir, use a search engine like Google to look for information about available Puerto Rican school girls on
the Internet. Short, pleated, plaid skirts rolled at the waist to make them shorter. I’m eating arroz con
dulce, growing thicker at the middle. Tonight, I let my cursor blink in rhythm with frog chirps and rain.


Loretta Collins Klobah is a professor of Caribbean Literature and creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Her poetry collection The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2011) received the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature in the category of poetry. Her poems have appeared in the anthology Best American Poetry 2016 and journals, including The New Yorker, BIM, The Caribbean Writer, Poui: The Cave Hill Literary Annual, The Caribbean Review of Books, Caribbean Beat, Susumba’s Book Bag, Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters, WomanSpeak, Smartish Pace, TriQuarterly Review, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review, The Antioch Review, Cimarron Review and Poet Lore.