Poets Online Archive
I first heard Coral Bracho's poem "Firefly Under the Tongue" read aloud in Spanish. I only understood a few words, but I loved the sound. Then I heard it read in its English translation. I understood almost all the words, but I still didn't understand the poem.
Bracho's translator, Forrest Gander, says this about the poem:
Is it a carnal poem about sex? Or is it a phenomenological poem about the reciprocal relation between subjectivity and world? Is it a concert of sound patterns stressing long o's and u's, love sounds, or is it an account of synesthetic perception? Does the poem intimate the hidden centrality of the earth in all human experience, in language itself? Should "Lengua" in the title be translated as "Language" or "Tongue"? What happens to those good old guides I and you after the first line?
I feel better. Even her translator is a bit lost. So, I really like the sound of this poem, though I'm a bit at sea about what it all means. I like that the poem sends me to the dictionary to define words like violaceous (though that may be the translator's choice). The brackets and dashes are part of her style, but why are they there? Back to Gander:
In this poem, the most difficult word for me to translate was cabala. In Spanish, it means both conjecture and Kabbalah. Since the bracketed words often seem to me like keys that unlock hidden connections and connotations, I went with door number two.
I think it should upset me that those "keys" don't unlock the more of the poem for me, but it doesn't bother me much. As much as I like narrative poems, I find Bracho's poems very appealing.
Have you written poems that are dripping with language? Do you tend to write in a narrative style? This month's prompt is fairly wide open. Language, imagery, sensuality, mystery - what we will reject is the narrative.
There's more about Coral Bracho and this prompt, and a chance for you to interact with us on the Poets Online Blog.
This summer evening tilting between sun-
The orange sun
That night in Ciudad Mexico in the hot winter dark
In the heart of warm night we walked
We were ghosts. No one saw us. We were poor.
It was destiny enough. To fill the space
We were shadows carrying candles inside.
We were eyes and coy, boy and girl free.
Where we crossed the bridge
I filled her palm with coins.
She was old and still as stone.
Her cold soul jumped into my mind as light:
"Enjoy our city, curious gringo,
Be free to walk wherever you wish
You two will come to no harm.
Tonight you are ghosts who see all and are not seen
Over this bridge you will find the creed
of Our Lady brought by Spaniards
Over this bridge you will see us bleed
dressed in the scarlet of Aztecs
Over this bridge you will live
a thousand hours of Vulcan's fire,
It is only in cold loud laughter
It is only mad golden laughter dancing
Only old grinning hidalgo and oiled lithe vixen
Was the moon out that night in Ciudad Mexico?
How far did we walk and how many
In Mexico there is no hell.
There is no suffering.
There is no punishment or reward before birth.
There is no guilt or sin.
There is only offering.
There is only flesh girthed with earth.
E. A. Costa
CAN JELLO STAND
OUT DAMNED CLICHE, OUT
Her 1981 collection, El ser que va a morir (Being toward Death) is considered an important, groundbreaking book of poetry in Mexico. Excerpts were included when New Directions published the English translations of her selected poems as Firefly under the Tongue: Selected Poems of Coral Bracho, which was translated by Forrest Gander.