Poets Online Archive
September 2008

I first heard Coral Brachox'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.

Coral Brachox was born in Mexico City in 1951. She has published six books of poems: Peces de piel fugaz [Fish of Fleeting Skin] (1977), El ser que va a morir [The Being that is Going to Die] (1981), Tierra de entraña ardiente [Earth of Burning Entrails] (in collaboration with the painter Irma Palacios, 1992), La voluntad del ámbar [The Will of Amber] (1998), Ese espacio, ese jardín [That Space, That Garden] (2003), and Cuarto de hotel (2007).

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.


This summer evening tilting between sun-
struck lion [Leo in long-drawn
daylight] and
a night of stars – this twilight
tipped to equilibrium [80
degrees Mercury], the chill of granite-
falls remembered and a bit of breeze
through all three sliding
doors wide open, redwood deck cat-
curling about my ankles. Lapped
in. [Milky Way so far upcountry in my
memory] Wrapped. Curtains
of pyracantha full of Friday’s bird-
song invisible as fields and
garden, final woods – those darkest
woods beyond. [for the moment
nothing quite invisible by
August moonlight] Past gloaming. Breeze
breathes in
and out the screens, the house
with its one lit lamp
full-moon opposing, no, full
folding into Jupiter and Venus rising,
oaks overarching night-
loam with a lace of light –
moon-glass reflected threefold
in windowglass with lamp-gold [this
home, our inward-gathered
day] and from the colder heaven
all those outer sparks

Taylor Graham


The orange sun
on overlapping shadows
a blanket to lie on
spread across
the cream
and white rimed plate
its color
the evening
its aroma
the sweet tropics
a knife slits it open
exposing its inner
pull out the moist flesh
juice slides down
ones arm
and like fingers
dipped in honey
the energy of the sun
bursts forth
a taste of the
earths labor.
Its scent lingers
and brings to mind
spring blossoms
bright against the sky.

Victoria Coffin


The eggs of my desires
All nesting in my heart
Crack open one by one
All the while, greedily
Sucking in life's blood
Growing in form n figure
All fluttering and flapping
Impatient to fly away
I can hold on to them
But for a short while as
Their strength is rising
As mine is diminishing
I try to rein them in firmly
But in a weak moment I cave in
They fly the coop raucously
As all hell breaks loose
There is a jungle out there
Nothing is sacrosanct
No means are holy
To fulfill and to replete
These uncaged birds of my
Strong passionate desires
I leave no stone unturned
And no path untrodden
Now all my desires have been
Pandered to and fed gluttonously
And port bellied they nest
In the cage of my faint heart
Languidly biding their time
Propagating and ruminating
Waiting for their eggs to crack
And new desires peek out!

Bina Gupta


That night in Ciudad Mexico in the hot winter dark
we walked shyly before storefronts of auto parts.

In the heart of warm night we walked
ginger-hearted and glowing in black.

We were ghosts. No one saw us. We were poor.

It was destiny enough. To fill the space
before the bus left.

We were shadows carrying candles inside.

We were eyes and coy, boy and girl free.

Where we crossed the bridge
I saw the hand of the Indian bridge spirit.

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,
to the jingle of an evening's coin.

Be free to walk wherever you wish
with love lingering on your arm.

You two will come to no harm.

Tonight you are ghosts who see all and are not seen
courtesy of a kindness which I do not need.

Over this bridge you will find the creed

of Our Lady brought by Spaniards
in lights and blessed.

Over this bridge you will see us bleed

dressed in the scarlet of Aztecs
on the day of the dead.

Over this bridge you will live

a thousand hours of Vulcan's fire,
in one snake-feathered unseeing night."

It is only in cold loud laughter
that knowing lifts young heart.

It is only mad golden laughter dancing
over emptiness that frees hot defiant blood
prancing with hooded falcon on her arm.

Only old grinning hidalgo and oiled lithe vixen
meld into one under the fall of the moon
into volcano sea brooding in sky.

Was the moon out that night in Ciudad Mexico?

How far did we walk and how many
lives and deaths did we see
in your Spanish eyes,
in your long flowing black hair,
in white skin and hand-painted skirt,
in nimble deviled spirit falling from gymnast's mount,
in school desk coffin capped with dead inkwell?

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


aragonite structure
living organisms
trapped in water
with little
or no nutrients
then broken and piled up
by wave action and bioeroders
fringing reefs
in a shallow lagoon
deep lagoon separating
barrier reef
from the pink sanded island
isolated, circular
patch reef or
apron, ribbon, table, bank
names we know for what
is as foreign as Venus.
My hands invade
the surrounding atoll
soft waves of grazing parrotfish
urchins of the sea and those I can't see and
could not name
fragmenting coral
settles into
reef spaces
angel, damsel, butterflies without
heaven, earth or air.

Ken Ronkowitz


Indeed no narrative.
Just now in this poem;
The painting of curves with lips and tongue
A canvas untouched by a brush
Or a pack of paper without pastels.
Imagine pristine prisms of white light
That are never separated into a rainbow in darkness
A black sea warm with our juices.

The tongue has papillae of touch and taste
With the sweetness at the back
And vinegar in the front
Szechwan pepper on the side.
Our bony palates smooth as manufactured ice
Holding in echoing smoke of Aladdin's lamp
Or Ali Baba cavern of open sesame..

She had a starry stare
Whose her mother sculptured her
As a pure white enamel refrigerator
With mirroring door of stainless steel.

Though I might be her speech pathologist
She declined the diagnosis
When I said,
You have severe limitations, receptive and expressive
Lacking all the w- s
When, why, who, what, where,
No w-s,
Only (no) mountains on the moon
The Mons Venere being cold
As a finger on ice is frozen in with hot pain.

Edward Halperin


she made a mental
note of it but alas
she lost her head
she mused over the
metaphysical hardware
seeking the proverbial
key but alas
it slipped through her fingers
she recollects details of
nocturnal dreams but
prefers the phantasm of
the day variety
imagines herself a
master poet
a picasso of a kind
in her mind
tries to shake out the
inner child who lives
inside but alas
she retreats wearing a
fig leaf on her head

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello