Song of the Harpy, poems by Loretta Collins Klobah
Loretta Collins Klobah is a professor of Caribbean Literature and creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico. She lives 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 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, A Congeries of Poetry, Simple Past, Smartish Pace, Vox Populi, Ekphrastic Review, and Poet Lore.
Song of the Harpy
Maybe it’s true that we were eating paella,
singing along with the bohemia music,
sipping a bucket of iced cervezas under pink sky
at Playa los Machos, our toes sifting shell fragments
out of the sand, when the truck backed up to our table.
Manejo de Emergencias de Ceiba, DRNA,
and in the back, a rhesus macaque in a wire cage.
Mange sores knitting her eyebrows, crust rimming nose holes,
white chin hair, a bloodied knee. No chatter—
her cauled eyes aimed below the sea horizon.
The driver perched on the bumper to have his coffee.
None of us talked to her.
I asked the driver, y su amiguita?
Pues, mono guisa’o.
Monkey stew, bound for euthanasia.
Did she lope through city alleys or plunder peppers,
pineapple, pumpkins or melons from a farmer’s field?
Was she a swimmer from that island in Cayo Santiago,
where specimens in the free-ranging colony are tattooed
with numbers or names and studied by social biologists,
who motor-boat deliver monkey chow every day?
I’ve heard that one scientist there proved that adult macaques
are better at counting apple slices than human babies
are at counting graham cracker cookies.
The behaviorists seek to know
What is fear?
How does one choose a mate?
How does one use power to overcome another?
At a party, I once met a scientist who travelled
every day to the monkey island to study male aggression
in the seven bands the macaques have formed.
She told us that some funded researcher from somewhere
borrowed a harpy eagle from an institution.
He wanted to know if it could be true
that harpies can carry off a small child,
so he released the eagle on Cayo Santiago.
Was it a trained harpy that would return at his whistle?
Did it grab a macaque and fly off into the blue?
How would he return the escaped harpy to the loaner facility?
If it wasn’t a wild harpy, how would he prove
anything about harpies in the wild?
Is it ethical to unleash an airborne agent of terror
on an isleta of a thousand East Indian monkeys
kept ½ mile off the coast of Puerto Rico?
What is fear?
What made her decide to swim for it?
Miss Macaque, look at the palms lining the bay across the water,
look back at the seven tribes of your island,
submerge yourself in the sea and paddle
to somewhere else,
where there are bohemia nights,
She always walks at the threshold of shadows
under the awnings of the locked car lot,
through flood lights of the war monument,
past clinking pool tables of Confetti Drink Confetti
and the unlit storefront of Iglesia el Cielo de Fuego,
late, under rain, through night, into day.
In the heat, she walks by el Cuartel de Policia
near botánicas and kioskos of Plaza Mercado,
treading through crushed ruins of Roxy Hotel,
which once kept a carousel pony at its doorway.
White hair, worn to her shoulders,
a grim, school girl face, and a decade
in the same clothes, an embroidered vest
and jeans skirt, street-dingy, pockets filled.
Like the children who pack pockets with rice
for pigeons in the Plaza de Armas, or like
my father who plugged his pockets with nuts
when my self-starved mother no longer ate meals,
this woman fills up her pockets with nubs,
the last morsel of pencils.
As she walks, she writes,
a notebook always in hand. Untie me say the tennis shoes
dangling over high wires; firma tu nombre
en mis paredes utters a boarded-up bank;
it’s your unlucky day cries a lotto ticket booth.
She walks, and she writes. Always, I wanted
to know what station she was tuned to, what
she was observing, which frequencies of dawn
and casualties of dusk, memories of family lost,
chance happenings, or confessions filled her book.
One day in el Paseo, I almost collided
with her. She held her notebook open like a preacher
holds a Bible, and I saw the pages— many times
and in many styles, I had imagined her handwriting!
Constricted cursive, shaky print, or slanting loops?
The pages were shiny slick with lead, written on
over and over again until letters merged into a solid
sea of pencil gloss. Not one word decipherable!
© Loretta Collins Klobah