Three Poems by Loretta Collins Klobah

 Image courtesy of  Père Ubu . Shared via a Creative Commons license.

Vieques, 1961
The Filming of The Lord of the Flies

by robber flies,
Simon squatted,
the buzzed-out,
rheumy eyes
of a spiked
pig’s head.

I can’t hardly move
with those creeper things,
Piggy said.

At the mountaintop,
a puppet paratrooper
drooped and nodded
as tree limbs pulled
his strings.

The island
was tropical,
but not deserted—
not then, not yet,
though a covert plan
had been drawn up
to relocate 8,000
fishing villagers,
cane workers,
to dig up
their dead;
yes, to make even
the dead turn refugee,
migrate on a ferry,
to crate and replant
their tombstones
on the mother island.

La Casa de Frances
had not yet burned.

Woolnor Corp.
wanted the south coast
to build a golf course,
w 100-bed hotel.

US Navy owned the fly-space
of la Isla Nena—
wanted no tourists
swarming up on beaches,
sand flies
in the season
of amphibious exercises.

We found an island
off the coast of Puerto Rico.
A jungle paradise;
miles of palm-fringed
beaches owned by Woolworth’s.
They lent us the island
in exchange for a screen credit.

—————————————————A MARINE UNIT 60-BED
—————————————————NO PROBLEM
—————————————————CAN BE SET UP
—————————————————FOR BRIGADA ASALTO 2506,
—————————————————IF NEED ARISES.

No evacuees of bombardiers
a brigade of thirty-three
young British boys
arrived on planes
that didn’t crash.
Three of the boy
actors were Puerto Rican,
(who confused
the pink-lipped song
of the conch shell
with male prerogative,
and power), was from
an army camp in Jamaica.

Near Esperanza and Sun Bay,
they barracked for three months
in a ruined pineapple plant—
an army cot for each boy.

Jeeps, trucks, tanks,
recoiless rifles, bazookas,
mortars, mines, missles,
conventional and guided,
that would later leave
surfaces of the island test sites lunar—
the boys had none of these,
just one knife and sharpened branches,
for hunting wild pigs
and each other. But the
weapons were there, in the bunkers
beyond the camera’s pan.

Maybe there is a beast,
Simon suggested.

In April, director Brook began to shoot
in black and white
the trumpet processional along the beach,
the boys still in their school togs
crawling over a low-swung
coco palm at Media Luna; he was forced
to pause during the first week—

for an incoming tally of casualties and losses
of lives, ghost ships, and sanitized
planes of Operation Pluto, a.k.a.
Operation Zapata.

The air-lifted,
groaning bodies of Cuban exilios
and US operatives filled beds
of the naval hospital in Vieques.
War wounds bloomed tropically
at the Bahia de Cochinos—
the botched invasion of the Bay of Pigs,
at the Playa de Girón,
where flies foretasted
the mingling blood of Cubans and Cubans
that wetted heads, arms, legs, and torsos.

PHOTO CAPTION: Prime Minister Fidel Castro
jumps down from a tank, as he leads
The Cuban Revolutionary Forces.

The boys played with lizards,
swam in the sea, smoked some
kind of leaves, held hermit crab races,
and chanted Kill the pig! Slit its throat!
when they killed Simon and set his body afloat.

They tormented ‘Piggy’— They’re going
to drop a stone on you. That scene
on the schedule, Piggy’s death,
it’s for real. They don’t need you anymore.

When the boy actors had gone tribal enough for Brook,
they were packed off to their adults,
to their sensible parents.
They grew up.

La Isla Nena, theatre
for ceaseless rehearsals
of assaults and invasions—
school bells drowned out
by daytime live-ammo bombardments—
later ousted la Marina
after being the launch pad
for deployments to Guatemala,
Cuba, la República  Dominicana,
Grenada, Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq
and Somalia.

The Lord of Flies,
tyrant, divides us,


Memoirs of Repairs to the Colony

In that spot of Isla de Cabras,
———the sea has licked pockmarks
——————and jagged spires
———into the rocks so that no one
can climb down to the tidal pools. Pebbles
———and shards of crockery mark
——————a path along the ridge to the ruins.
———A spongy, strange grass grows
over the hill and inside the two roofless
———structures of brick, mortar and stone.
——————One small building for men,
———another for women, both left uninhabitable
after two hurricanes in 1916.

———If one stands in the doorway
——————of the women’s quarters,
———looking across the water, past
the deep sea trench, to the castle fortress
———of el San Felipe del Morro and the blue-bricked
——————streets of San Juan, then the cemetery
———is down a slope on the right.
Its picket fence is gone. Graves are unmarked,
———but I believe there are many. The well never held
——————enough fresh water.

———Mal de San Lázaro afflicted
Puerto Rico by the end of the 18th Century
Leprosarium, such a botanical word, like lepidoptera
———and mariposario, like a glass-ceiling walking-garden
——————of mallows, milkweed, rushes, saltbush,
———and butterflies darting over the sedge.
——Leprocomio Insular, to insulate
colonial guards, Spanish, then American, from infected masses.
—————-Leprocomios were built on the big island,
———and then here, off the north coast,
on an islet where there are no, and perhaps have never been, any goats.
———An isleta at the entrance to the bay and harbor,
——————constantly whipped by wind,
———high sea-spray and salt mist that seeped
and burned into all bloody crevices of wounds.

———Those leper paupers, rounded up
——————and sequestered here, lived under the sun
———like desert saints,
secluded in an abandoned quarantine station.

———They made a garden where nothing grew.
They had a coal-pot kitchen stocked by the weekly boat
———that brought a priest-doctor with his salves of arsenic
——————and creosated cod-liver oil, glass bottles
———of El Rey Dolor, KING PAIN: thick, yellow
chaulmoogra oil distilled by steam, suspended
———in an emulsion of gum and camphor. Chaulmoogra
——————pressed from seeds of the Taraktaogenos Kurzii.
———Kurzii, or king.
—————————Once a week, El Rey Dolor
was injected intramuscularly or subcutaneously,
———causing panic in the patients because those injections
——————of fatty oil were painful; lepers swelled
———and burned in fever with every hypodermic.
The catholic priest lamented island conditions in his letters.

———The protestants who rowed over less frequently
——————brought a handyman to make repairs.
———I know the name of only one patient isolated here,
Eleutorio Bonay y González, a nine-year-old boy.
———The handyman carried a baseball in his pocket,
——————so that he could play toss with Eleutorio
———on his visits. Whenever the handyman rowed away
from the island, Eleutorio stood in the line of patients
———waving goodbye to him with handkerchief or hat.
——————When the handyman got Hansen’s disease,
———he, too, was detained and confined to the island.

For ten years after hurricanes blew the roof out,
———the lepers were still kept on this rock.
——————Did the handyman turn to building coffins?
———In 1926, forty-three patients were transferred
from Isla de Cabras to Leprocomio Insular,
———a new hospital and colony in Trujillo Alto,
——————managed by the Chicago child-murderer
———Nathan F. Leopold, who published scientific papers
—————————on leprosy.

———I swam once at Isla de Cabras.
——————A brown oily-smudge stayed stinking
———on my skin for more than a week.
The isleta is a police shooting range, now.
———A No Swimming sign is posted,
———along with a sign protecting manatees;
——————the water, itself is sick, laden
———with arsenic, cadium, chromium, cyanide,
pathogens, and pesticides that penetrate skin.



Its tap root spears him—
red mangrove seedling,
brown-tipped arrow point
of the green propagule
falling into his soul,
red mangrove sapling
twirling, airborn— the arrow’s
fletching, a tuft of mangrove leaves—
like a dart it pierces him.
Barbed idea falling into his mind.

Red mangrove seedling,
a living tree,
takes root in his head.
His paintbrush sprouts aerial roots,
and he paints los planos lodosos
del mangle, the marsh, silt mud,
salt flats, swamp, brown soup
of mangrove water, los raíces,
los zancos, arching roots,
stilt walker moko roots
of the red mangrove, anchoring
entwined branches and trunks
in shifting mud lagunas,
around all walls of his studio.

Rhizomes of mangrove trees, like antennae
between sky and Earth, grounding him,
en la tierra inestable, transmitting
to him el espíritu del bosque.

Painted into the mangrove swamp,
he works—this work takes him over
for years.
———–El camino de Samuel Lind,
————who models gray clay to call Osain,
to call forth himself, Samuel, to fly forward
into the mangrove future of his ancestral past,
to see with soul eyes vegetation,
plants, trees, herbs, fruits, woman, and man
of his pueblo Loíza, Loíza Aldea.

Never running from, running towards.
Running towards, not away from.

———One can never get away
———from being an artist.
El camino.
———It is a mark on you, a mark
———that you cannot get out.

So he molds in clay a man running,
running through the mangrove.
He runs, not like a runaway
but like a sprinting messenger,
leaning far forward, pumping
his veined arms, stretching his torso
towards some evasive finish line.

His urgent legs morph into tall,
churning stilts, footstalks lengthening
into the back legs of a gazelle,
hocked, calcaneus bones jutting
backwards as he springs forward.

Bark scales up the runner’s ankles.
Prop roots pop out of his burning calves
and curve into the muck beneath him,
multiple prop roots embedding
the moving man, who is still running.

His heart and liver shrink,
so that he can run faster.

———From spirit to matter.
———It is to see something beyond the senses.
———Like a tree that branches.
———One sacrifices everything
———for the images that come
———and are projected.

The clay man runs, resin pearling
on his bark-furrowed skin.
His arboreal fingertips
flame out into waxy leaf-sprouts.

Almond-slit eyes
of an African mask groove
into his thigh, and it rains!
He runs a distance into the rain.
Birds sing. He sings
in the voice of a bird.
Leaves burst out across his chest,
sash of green spirit hands,
crawling up his rib cage
like spirit notes of music —

Sound of panderetas, maracas—
———To be an artist—
———and behind every work
———there are many emotions.
———The dilemma, the challenge
———towards a final product.
———Life is lived for lonely work—
———It cannot be avoided.

Notched face, African face,
corteza raspada, clear-cut,
ardent face, formidable face,
whole-hearted face,
running into the sunlight—
tree knot on forehead,
like Osain’s one eye.

A bomba drum carves itself
into the roots at Osain’s feet,
so he runs to el ritmo sicá.
A vejigante mask blooms
at Osain’s heel,
so he dances to el ritmo sicá.

Birds sing, and Osain sings
in the voice of a bird,
in the trill of Yaguasa.

Bronzed and patinaed,
an oxidized mangrove tree,
in la Arboleda Ancestral
Africana, Osain still runs,
guardian of herbs, wizard
of plants, forest stilt walker.

Samuel Lind crafts in clay
more mock-ups of Osain,
dueño de la naturaleza,
and he plants a garden
inside his studio,
and finds a woman,
and makes a son.

———El camino de un artista.
———That moment of satisfaction
———of touching someone.
———Only the love that is
———projected, that I receive,
———I receive love. Money
———does not pay. Only
———the love. It is to see
———something beyond the senses.

He paints Osain,
born of the marriage
of earth and water,
Osain, with one large ear
that hears nothing,
and one small ear that hears
new leaves falling and the hum
of babies sleeping.
Osain, who brings us medicine
and healing, el botánico Africano.

Samuel Lind, pierced
by a seedling of red mangrove,
does not run away
from his ideas,
from the images that come
and are projected.
Rooted in his birthplace of Loíza,
he paints and sculpts
el pueblo.

In Samuel’s paintings, nature grows
within prisms, tubes of light,
green vegetable visions
of Earth goddesses and Osain,
of the energy and movement
ever forward of his people
of Loíza, Loíza Aldea.


Loretta Collins Klobah is a professor of Caribbean Literature and creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico. Her poetry collection The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman (Peepal Tree Press, 2011) received the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature in the category of poetry and was short listed for the 2012 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection in the Forward poetry prizes. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best American Poetry 2016, BIM, Caribbean Beat Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, The Caribbean Review of Books, Poui, Susumba’s Book Bag, WomanSpeak, Ekphrastic Review, A Congeries of Poetry at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, TriQuarterly Review, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review, The Antioch Review, Cimarron Review and Poet Lore.