In la Cueva del Indio

J. C. Elkin
A limestone cave now half collapsed
on Puerto Rico’s cliffs
lies vacant but for bees and bats
and ghosts and petroglyphs.

Two thousand years before white men,
the Taino came to meet
for sacred ceremonies and
emergency retreat.

They entered hard by dead-low tide
as crashing waves permit
or squeezed tight in through crevices
where only youths could fit.

Their decorations –beasts and suns
and people –scar the rock:
a swaddled babe with hollow eyes
that stare in nascent shock.

What horrors did she witness with the women who escaped
marauding Caribs come to pillage, burn and rob and rape?
Or with warrior refugees from Spanish slavery’s blows
who crept home, injured, to find wives with half-breed mestizos?

They lived as troglodytes where living seemed out of the question –
resourcefulness the only prize of hardship and oppression.
For light they fashioned torches out of seed hulls and beeswax.
For water, when it rained, they stood agape beneath the cracks.

Fruit bats, seeds and sometimes maybe wayward bugs or fish
were mixed with honey –all they had to improvise a dish.
The babe upon the wall saw countless horrors amid hope
but her mere presence in the cave is proof of how we cope.

Water, food, and light are vital to those set apart,
yet mankind never could survive without creating art.



J. C. Elkin is an optimist, linguist, and singer with a mammoth memory for minutiae. Her collection World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom (Apprentice House 2014) is based on her experiences teaching English to adult immigrants. Other poetry and prose drawing on spirituality, feminism, travel, and childhood appear domestically and abroad in such journals as The Delmarva Review, Kestrel, Kansas City Voices, and Angle.


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