Return to the poem

Translator's Note: Firefly Under the Tongue

by Forrest Gander

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?

Well, the last question seems to have the most obvious answer. I and you are simply swallowed up into the event of the poem, into its shifting points of view, its abrupting syntaxes, its images telescoping out of each other. Like those classical Chinese poems in which senses are recorded without reference to any anchoring pronoun, no I or you or we, Bracho's poem dispels its preparatory, human-centered orientation. "I love you" bears no more weight than "Newborn insects, blue." The boy's tongue is not subordinated by analogy to the sensitive lily. The human (or animal) sound—the sudden "cry"—interacts with the dumb abundance of the world, with the very light.

The bracketed, parenthetical, and dash-separated words and phrases in Coral Bracho's poems open little rooms in the stanzas. They function like shoji screens. Sometimes the poem moves into those rooms, and sometimes the poem simply offers the reader an inward glance. The expectant tongue and the ecstatic petal distend toward a fulfillment that is delayed, erotically, by dashes and brackets, back-eddies in the rush, as texture and context are added, as tonalities are counterpointed.

It is impossible to carry into English the sound patterns. Sometimes I'm lucky, as when the long u of azules, zumo, and frutales work out as blue, juice, and fruit. When I lose sound play in one place—for instance, the slide from grieta to gruta or from goces to Gozne—I try to recover it in places where there may not be sound play in the original, as where I echo flustered in Luster or root in smooth. In Bracho's poems, the musical movement is primary and I let it tune my translation.

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.


This poem originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2007

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.