To Francisco X. Alarcón (1954–2016)

You made tomatoes laugh
& warned me
some words die in cages.                                          

I met you first in the desert.

You burned sage, greeted,
each of the four directions
with plumed syllables.

The ritual embarrassed me—
your stout body, your
mischievous smile did not.                

You were familial.                               

The first poem I wrote
that sounded like me
echoed your work.                 

Copal, popote, tocayo, cacahuate:
you taught me Spanish
is a colonial tongue.

Some Mesoamerican elders
believed there’s a fifth direction.

Not the sky or the ground
but the person right next to you.

I’m turning to face you, maestro.
I’m greeting you.
Tahui.

More by Eduardo C. Corral

All the Trees of the Field Shall Clap Their Hands

Josefa Segovia was tried, convicted & hanged on July 5, 1851, in Downieville, California, for killing an Anglo miner, a man who the day before had assaulted her.


Are the knees & elbows 

     the first knots  
 
                     the dead untie?
 
       I swing from a rope
 
                     lashed
 
       to a beam. Some men
 
along the Yuba river
 
               toss coins
 
         into the doubling water.
 
                   Visible skin.
 
            Memorable hair.
 
     Imagine: coal, plow,
 
                     rust, century.
 
                 All layers
 
         of the same palabra.
 
                                       Once
 
I mistook a peach pit
 
               on a white dish
 
         for a thumbprint.
 
   Wolf counselor.
 
                       Reaper.
 
             Small rock.
 
   The knot just under
 
       my right ear
 
whispers God is gracious,
 
             God will

increase. The soul,
 
                   like semen,

       escapes
 
the body
 
         swiftly.

Cayucos

 boats used by African emigrants
   to reach Spanish islands


A girl asleep beneath a fishing net

Sandals the color of tangerines

Off the coast of Morocco

A moonlit downpour, God's skeleton

Bark, dory, punt, skiff

"Each with a soul full of scents"

Day after day spent shaping

A ball of wax into a canary

Little lamp, little lamp

The word "contraband" arrived

In English in the 16th century via Spanish

Throw your shadow overboard

Proverbs, blessings scratched into wood

The tar of my country better than the honey of others

Ceremonial

                         Delirious,
touch-starved,
             I pinch a mole
                          on my skin, pull it
off, like a bead—
             I pinch & pull until
                          I am holding
a black rosary. Prayer
             will not cool
                          my fever.
Prayer will not
             melt my belly fat,
                         will not thin
my thighs.

                         A copper-
faced man once
             called me beautiful.
                         Stupid,
stupid man.
             I am obese. I am
                         worthless.
I can still feel
             his thumb—
                          warm,
burled—moving
             in my mouth.
                          His thumbnail
a flake

                          of sugar
he would not
             allow me to swallow.
                          Desperate
for the sting of snow
             on my skin,
                          rosary
tight in my fist,
              I walk into
                          a closet, crawl
into a wedding dress.
                         Oh Lord,
here I am.

Related Poems

Flower Song / Flor y Canto / In Xochitl In Cuicatl

every tree
a brother
every hill
a pyramid
a holy spot

every valley
a poem
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flower and song

every cloud
a prayer
every rain
drop
a miracle

every body
a seashore
a memory 
at once lost
and found.

we all together—
fireflies
in the night
dreaming up
the cosmos


cada árbol
un hermano
cada monte
una pirámide
un oratorio

cada valle
un poema
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flor y canto

cada nube
una plegaria
cada gota
de lluvia
un milagro

cada cuerpo
una orilla
al mar
un olvido
encontrado

todos juntos—
luciérnagas
de la noche
soñando
el cosmos


cece cuahuitl 
ca totiachcauh 
cecen tepetontli 
ca tzacualli 
ca teoyocan 

cecen tepeihtic 
ca cuicayotl 
in xochitl 
in cuicatl 
xochicuicatl 

cecem mixtli 
ca tlahtlauhtiliztli 
cecen atl 
ichipinca 
ca tlamahuizolli 

cece tlactli 
ca atentli 
ca necauhcayotl 
poliuhqui 
in oc tlanextilli 

nehhuantin tocepan— 
tixoxotlameh 
yohuatzinco 
tictemiquih 
in cemanahuactli 

Sidonie

After Gail Wronsky

            Reading Colette
I am reminded that I, too
come from a culture steeped in taste
            variegated nourriture.

But being Mexican, I never made
much of it.  Amidst fancylesness
banqueting, savoring what couldn’t
be bought—joie de vivre,
the metaphysics of indulgence.

            Not being French,
sex came with complications,
incurably guilt-sick.  Love, obtuse,
            or melodramatic. 

The senses, Sidonie’s beloved
home, was for me darkly decorated
in Christ, the proverbial lack of money.
But look, mole is a lush carmine,
hefty with spices, secret excesses.
            Rancheras are operas.
The flesh, the supreme study,
            can be mastered in many languages,
all of them dead. 

Longing doesn’t have to cabaret itself
            in philosophy.
Sensuality can also be mute,
after all, it doesn’t have much to say,
though it writes itself beautifully.

            Literature, poetry,
doesn’t need Paris, chateaus,
Gallic cads or any kind of gentlemen.
It does with little commercialized California
towns entrenched by churches and canneries,
with barrio dancehalls where Mexicans
dance cumbia in celebration of a baptism
            or for no reason at all.

            In these mundane towns
as in the world of Colette
the spirit is manifest in what remains
of the home country, children, animals,
heartbreaks, family attachments, strawberries,
            perfumes and flowers. 
Every ranchera houses memories
the blissful plaintiveness
            of living fully.

The Republic of Poetry

For Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.