• Stanzas: Eduardo C. Corral

    Michael Prior


    For our Stanzas web feature, we ask writers to introduce us to their favorite poets by way of a handful of lines. This week, Michael Prior, whose poem “Palinode” appears in our Spring 2021 issue, takes a closer look at “Guillotine” by Eduardo C. Corral.

    Eduardo C. Corral’s second book of poems, Guillotine, explores the crossing of borders (those punitively reified by the nation state, those that mark individual and cultural imaginations), the grief of unrequited love, and coming of age as a queer, Chicano man during the AIDS epidemic. The collection’s title poem centers on a harrowing conceit: each day at dawn, two scorpions drag a razor blade, “a little guillotine,” down the length of the speaker’s supine body, “paus[ing]” to threateningly “tilt / the blade” every time he thinks of the beloved who doesn’t return his love (“his beard, / coppery & difficult”). It’s a crucible of desire enacted by the poem’s sharply staggered form—a brutal and beautiful translation of William Carlos Williams’s triadic-line.

      My thoughts swerve
           from monsoon storms
                 to accordions
    to pecan groves.
       The little guillotine
             starts moving again
      I begin to sense
            the enormity of my body.
                 The blade
    high in the air.
       For now.

    In these final stanzas of the poem, the speaker struggles to repress his own “yearning:” we “swerve” from image to image, between memory and body, guided by chains of long vowels, alliterative plosives, and subtle rhyme, pausing and descending over the stair-like lines in a way that mimics the halting movement of the scorpions. Here, the typographic gulf between the end of one tercet and the next is a held breath; it’s fitting, then, that the poem ends by disrupting its stanzaic pattern, suspending the reader amid the interminability of the speaker’s desire, and the circularity of his grief.

    Michael Prior's poems have appeared in the New Republic, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Narrative, the Academy of American Poet's Poem-a-Day series, and the Asian American Writers' Workshop's The Margins. He is the author of Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House 2020) and Model Disciple (Véhicule Press 2016).

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