SLOW LIGHTNING: A book review

SLOW LIGHTNING: A book review

Today I read it again, for the “I’ve forgotten the exact number of times,” since the first time I pulled it from its standard yellow mailer. Impressive, la portada del libro boasts a coil of shiny, black serpents, glistening and magical, respected and potent, and sensual and explosive at once…like the unforgettable poems between its dark covers. All over again, I am awed. Humbled. Sorrowful. Joyful. Lightening struck. And lifted.

Below is a picture of Corral reading his work to us, my fellow Lambda Literary Writer’s Retreat fellows and me, in Los Angeles, at the American Jewish University, in August 2014. Quietly unassuming and warm, with a flash of mirth in his gaze, Corral wowed me with his flavorful words, meted and measured, it seemed, effortlessly, as if he’d been crafting poetry from the time he could hold a pen. And me, having always bowed to the spell of skillfully crafted words, written or spoken, I simply had to know of what stardust SLOW LIGHTENING was formed.

Eduardo C. Corral treated us to his hypnotic voice and  the majesty of his award-winning poetry.
Eduardo C. Corral treated us to his hypnotic voice and the majesty of his award-winning poetry.

To read the work is to gift oneself with a poetry-writing workshop. Corral spreads a poetic feast, offering a wide selection of genres. As the eloquently analytic poet Carl Phillips writes in the foreword:  “I love the range here—psychologically, emotionally, but also in terms of mode: narrative, lyric, elegy, homage, the anti-ecphrastic ecphrastic.” Phillips’ last mode rushes me to an online dictionary, just to find the term isn’t among its treasures, but I know that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I pause, inhale, then rely on my ability to make an educated guess. I fathom it could possibly mean a poem of words and phrases that seem disconnected in meaning, although they are quite intricately bound by theme and subject, however dovetailed their first glance. That offered, dear reader, if you are willing to elucidate my understanding, please know you are welcome to comment.

SLOW LIGHTENING nourishes my imagination, my pen, my experiential base.

I love what Corral does with creativity, when he sits to delight in a work of art, as he does in several poems in this shimmering volume, and then allows his imagination to capture what he sees in the shapes, forms, colors and meanings surrounding the work. His words are so vivid, so alive, until I feel as if I can recreate OUR COMPLETION: Oil On Wood: Tino Rodriguez: 1999 without going in search of it on Google. Imbibing the poem, I am the thrashing branches, the sleeping dark, the humorous words written in the margin of a book of Dickinson poems. I admire and adore Corral’s dance between his two languages, Spanish and English, in the same line. He takes dichotomy under his quill and suffuses parts into a sweet wholeness, into oneness. It’s like painting a colorful masterpiece, illuminating for the viewer, mentally as well as visually, the beautiful awe in both languages in one sweep of his plumed brush.

I cannot help myself. Excuse me while I traipse off in search of Frida Kahlo’s painting, The Broken Column. Tell me, how am I not to do so with the power in Corral’s opening stanza burning my imagination:

On a bench, beneath a candle-lit window

whose sheer curtains resemble honey

sliding down a jar, Kahlo lifts her skirts.

There are 1,000 pictures to see. I soak in a few then reread the poem. It takes on more of an enlightened meaning now. In my third eye, I see the lovely Frida, sitting before her easel, La Columna Rota, taking shape before her, even as pain ripples her back, as Corral writes:

Her spine: a pouring of sand

through an hourglass

of blood.”

I am in awe. Corral feels the artist, the gorgeous dynamo. Well beyond merely phrasing the painting, he culls what it is to be the artist crafting her self-portrait different from her other self-portraits, for Frida is alone in the painting, experiencing her perennial pain without her signature monkeys, parrots, cats and foliage. When I return to Corral’s poem, the work invites me back into its numbered stanzas and I am one with Kahlo, making art through pain, searching for the perfect red.

And this is one of the innumerable things an award-winning poet does…sends you spiraling outside of yourself in awe, on the end of melic skill, of a melodic lasso.

His border poems touch me deeply.

In “Border Triptych,” I am Jorge, doing what I must for “fifteen years, six days a week, at half past eight.” I answer the narrator’s questions, watch my bike being defiled, and I remain silent. I am the epitome of calm. Though I do not dishonor the checkpoint station manager, who is on his way out, on retirement, he thinks me a bastard. But I smile and reply, “I smuggle bikes.”

My heart rises, does a couple of flips, when, in the poem’s second section, Sofia heeds her mother’s advice, which she keeps to herself, and joins the others, a group of men and ten women, crossing the Tijuana/San Diego border. The van they are riding in stops on “an isolated road.” Bandits demand the men hit the ground, face down, while the women are raped, at gunpoint. Pero no Sofia. El consejo de su madre la guarda. The rapists have no way of knowing the “reddish brown” stain in her sweaty underwear is gelatin powder. So she is passed over, spit on and slapped.

After I read To A Mojado Who Died Crossing The Desert,” I feel my heart bow. To every soul who ventured the journey across seething sand, ravenously calling “out for more footprints.” I understand how the mirage of a sanctuary in a boulder might have been what my heart might have called out to see under layers and layer of scorching sun. I shake my head, aiming not to imagine being hungry enough to eat a lizard or mouse raw, to survive. To face the leap of a coyote…sometimes “over creosote.” I stop and ponder. What is creosote? I go in search of its meaning to discover it is “a dark brown oil distilled from coal tar and used as a wood preservative.” And I think to myself, maybe Mexicans were using it to ward off coyotes, but being the animals were hungry enough, they chanced the oil spray. Just the mental image saddens me.

There is much to be honored in this esteemed collection, a Yale series of younger poets heavy hitter. I could be here all night, extolling its praises, elucidating the many ways it feeds my writer’s spirit. The poems honor the sensual and the lushness of the sensuous. It culls a fierce picture of the human spirit to survive. It dips its pen into the vibrant paint of the erotic and the filial, and boldly allows us to swan dive into the beauty in how just the concept might terrify the timid. Pause. Think. How else do we learn to love others if we do not learn filial and self-love love, at home, first? Love envelops us and continues to flow from there into the wellsprings of love that we know as romantic, agape, platonic, and friendship, etc.

Corral’s poetry is sharp, soft, heavy, piercing. It is playful, visceral. Mesmerizing. It has garnered a place on my shelf. As I once tweeted, I go to it, like a traveler to water, to run my palm across its varied, velvet, and veritable words, and I am blessed.

Pick it up on Amazon or anywhere books are sold. The POET in you will thank you.

Yale Series of Younger Poets's SLOW LIGHTNING Eduardo C. Corral
Yale Series of Younger Poets’s SLOW LIGHTNING
Eduardo C. Corral

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