Saturday Sep 23

KlobahLorettaCollins 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 (Leeds: 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: The Cave Hill Literary Annual, Susumba’s Book Bag, Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters, WomanSpeak, TriQuarterly Review, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review, The Antioch Review, Cimarron Review and Poet Lore.

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Come, Shadow


As if I were the drugged one,
memories are hard to pull.
After two years on the other side,
she gave up on visiting my dreams—
then a decade of non-intervention,
quiet ashes in a buried tin box.

Today, she is detectable
in my peripheral vision,
rearranging the molecules,
mud mother,
Skyping my inner eyelids
with full video text, unsubdued,
everywhere in my head
—annunciation.

Singing yellow bird
up high in the banana tree
with me on her lap
in a padded rocker
in front of the wide window,
where we waited up late
for my father to come home.

She is taking me
at this hour, to the plastic bit
in her mouth that she must bite.
We had an electric metal coffee pot
with a short in the frayed cord. I was small.
I touched the spout with a wet finger,
and the current jumped into me and shook me.
I couldn’t move my hand or my feet.
Is that what the shock was like?
                                                  A body
thrown against an electrified fence,
convulsions hard enough to break bones
against each other or pop them out of socket?
Did she receive anesthetic, muscle relaxers,
soothing syrups or a salve for her temples?

I remember the room full of women.
When mother arrived, she wore a half-slip
and bra. Her hair was cut short, lobbed off.
Conversation undiscoverable. Vague hands
of the women who wanted to touch me
and pull me, rag baby, to them.
All had short hair and were not fully dressed.
I was afraid of them and for them.
I was in a tight space, like
a bathroom full of steam. I had to get out.

I remember the long lawn of the state hospital
and the willow tree that I sat under.
Mother had drawn a paper doll
for me with fold-over tabs on its dresses.
It looked like a woman who had jumped
out of her skin-- green and black veins
crayoned on its arms and legs. I held onto it.
It is what I had of my mother on the car ride home.

Today, she is not quelled, chastened or hushed.
I see her in the women’s ward of the state psychiatric hospital,
where she stayed that time for a year,
ambushed, labelled a paranoid schizophrenic,
tackled, injured and carried off by police in my kindergarten year.
I flip through scenes, words of her stories, faint auditory blips.

Stanchions hold against her fury,
evasive, sly fox lover of the Holy Ghost,
who is here with her, like a plasma flame, in the hospital.
That Holy Ghost is visible, manifest,
speaking to her, keeping her alive,
dashing Molotov cocktails of sexual hunger
against her body.
                           She is cinched to the bed.
She is corseted into restraint jackets.
She is Mommy-tucked tightly in wet blankets.
She is naked in the showers with the other women.
She is high-dosed with antipsychotics and suppressors
of side effects, in the name of our Father,
O, Holy Haldol, Lithium, Meleril and Valium.
She sleeps, she drools, my jaw shakes, my hands tremble.
I scream words. There are many beds in my room.

In a room of bathtubs, she is trussed into a canvas
hammock, suspended for an hour in a bath filled with hot water—
forced to be recumbent by small nurses,
ham-handed nurses, orderlies, and psych techs.
Hot water to smooth the cloven hoof,
blunted, limp, trodden under, steamrolled
body that must relent in the warm cradle.
If not, fill the bath with ice, then, and icy water,
woman numbed to unriddling in the sling stretcher.
I see two rows of bathtubs in the long room,
a woman’s cropped head sticking out
above the canvas tarp covering each one.

I see the sessions with the doctor,
who thumbs through her thoughts,
skims over her terrors, probes a teenage rape
in the forest, her love of God, her husband’s errors,
and, then, prescribes the 18th round
of electroconvulsive shock therapy before
he walks to the staff cafeteria for lunch.

This day is in 1966, and the present year, the 50th
since my mother was strapped to the laboratory table,
electrodes placed at her temples and chest, a gag—
a plastic bit in her mouth to prevent tongue swallowing
and teeth breakage.
                                 I see the dials on the machine
that someone will have to set for intensity,
the levers that someone will have to turn on
for a duration until she reaches the crescendo,
her whole body a stiff divining rod,
that then jerks in mal seizures, until, in fact,
she leaves her body and billows above it,
a blue-grey shadow of a sail, like the Holy Ghost.

I hear skeletal tones of every bone jack-hammered
like a brass gong.
                             Whether she is conscious
or unconscious, she feels like she can’t breathe.
She cannot breathe, and she is dying.
But she does not die. She is bruised, softened—
not cured, but vulcanized.

On the day of the visit that I remember,
she tells my father he must talk to Dr. Patel
because if she has another
shock treatment, she will die.
It will be months before she is home, though,
and she will be hospitalized uncountable times
after that.
             She will remember the far past,
but misremember and blank out on yesterday,
last week, the days of my girlhood pixelated,
in her electrocuted memory of gaps.
What are we but moment and memory?

Quite out of nowhere,
my mother has chosen to come back, today—
to pick out my memories like meat slivers in boiled crab.
My own children are grown.
Perhaps mother means to stay with me
this time, for my home stretch.

Shadow, go back.
I’m not your horse.




Centering the Galaxy from Corozal


Blue-dust nebula of Orion’s belt
and two bright stars, glowing Venus
and, above her, tiny Mars, found here
in Corozal, on a hill of Cibuco,
behind a plantation house,
where the guaraguao glides
over us, and amateur astronomers
sketch with green laser pointers
Cassiopeia, Pollux, and the Seven Sisters
Taínos planted their crops by.
These scopes are modern,
guided to programmed coordinates.
The centerpiece is missing, though.
The middle of the field is empty,
where once a month, for thirty years,
Don Gregorio unpacked crates,
and climbed a step ladder
to build, section by section, his monumental
telescope, black cylinders like wide stovepipe
joints, with refractors and large beveled,
grounded glass lens that he adjusted
by hand throughout the night,
equipped only with a star chart, a red penlight,
and his own sense of how celestial bodies
shift between dusk and dawn.
Years ago, I saw Jupiter and Saturn
through his scope, learned from him how
to look into the heart of the universe
through the teapot stars of Sagittarius
and call that haze the Vía Láctea.
When the planetarium at the science park
broke down, and no funds were found
to fix its projections on geodesic ceiling
of artistic renditions of other galaxies,
pulsars and exoplanets, Don Gregorio
still organized public lectures there.
He had a dream and some donated land
in the hills of Corozal, where he wanted
to build a grand solarium that children
could come to on excursions to view the sun.
He worked with NASA on his plans,
he convinced the mayor of the pueblo,
and the island legislature allocated funds.
The elections came, the political party
changed, and the project fell— una estrella fugaz.
I called him at home once.
As it happened, his wife had died.
Cancer took her quickly.
I was a woman’s voice on the phone,
so he told me about his wife,
and that damned bird, a blue pigeon
his wife had rescued, a dirty bird
always under foot. He’d never liked it
walking freely about the house.
After his wife died, it fell to him to feed it.
That day of my call,
the bird had managed to escape
the screened-in porch, standing
dumbly behind his car tire. He had backed
over it, of course. That bird—
The pigeon was gone, too, now,
and he didn’t know why he
was telling me about it, he cried.
He died in the recent season of the super moon,
a celestial event that will not occur again
in my lifetime. I sat that night for a long time
on my front stairs viewing the lakes and seas
of the moon through the binoculars that Gregorio
had recommended I buy years back.
I didn’t know then that he had passed.
Tonight, the hill of Cibuco is full of families,
and the sky that earlier was bright with stars
seldom seen in the city is blanked out in cloud-cover.
When I ask, the young astronomy professor
says that this is the Society’s first observation
since Don Gregorio’s death. He points
to the bare center of the field. Su telescopio
siempre estaba ahí, he says, right there.