The Color of Its Flowers
by Stephanie Woodman
Eduardo Corral, Slow Lightning (Yale, 2012)
“I know / what Eve / didn’t know: a serpent / is a fruit eaten to the core” (Corral 22). Seductive and flowing with the visceral fluids of a dream, Eduardo Corral in his debut collection, Slow Lightening, effortlessly creates a purgatory between the bluntness of reality and an opalescent dreamscape, leaving the reader as beautifully sedated and raw as Eden after her children had been plucked from her. Both grotesque and tantalizing imagery juxtapose each other as honey is licked from the hind leg of a deer, a mouse is torn open like an orange, a bleeding heart is ripped out of a cello, and a snake coils itself in the antlers of a doe. Biblical symbolism and animal imagery connote the acquisition of new knowledge as the speaker grapples with his own maturation and sexual awakening. In this vein of sexual discovery, the speaker flourishes his own loss of innocence in a display of showgirls legs and finches’ pecks, creating a mercurial cosmos of the trials and tribulations of exploration. In alignment with the common view of society, the sexual loss of innocence may seem melancholy or even mournful, as any pearly innocence that is lost is often steeped in grief. However, Corral, using a canorous tone and ardent imagery, acquaints the reader with the idea that this loss of innocence is overtly vital to the growth of each individual.
Images of a loss of innocence often feature weeping mothers and woeful reverends. Society sees this supposed loss as a death of the over-idealized state of childhood—usually connoted by blissful innocence to the “evils” of the world. However, this loss of innocence is simply the acquisition of knowledge on a taboo subject, the most commonly being sexual loss of innocence. Corral expertly cultivates this new knowledge and its effect on him and his maturation using pertinent examples from his upbringing and his adulthood to demonstrate the continuous nature of his sexual awakening.
Sexual knowledge is perhaps the most taboo of the many subjects commonly frowned upon in formal society, and likely the first thought associated with the loss of innocence. The speaker in Corral’s poems constantly toys with the clitoris of sexual discovery, creating a spark and musicality to his words that in many ways breaks away the aged taboo and places a positive connotation on the idea of such exploration. Natbly argues that “Corral’s speaker embodies a shapeshifter […] accessing the borderlands of his heritage and sexuality with fantastical elements that connote grandeur." This is evident, and often Corral indicates a loss of innocence by the presence of a reptile. He ties this in with not only biblical imagery, but anatomical fact due to the sex drive’s existence in what is known as the “reptilian brain.” In Corral’s poem “Want,” the speaker remembers his father’s ravenous consumption of a raw lizard in the dessert, likening it to his first sexual experience: “The first / time I knelt for a man, my / lips pressed to his zipper, / I suffered such hunger” (17). In this manner, sex is linked metaphorically to survival, and its discovery is wanted. Sex is a part of one’s identity as much as one desires, creating a sense of comfort in one’s self after it has been dissected. Even the closeness of another human being reveals to an individual the importance of other people in one’s life. In this sense, it opens up an opportunity for one to care deeply for another—a pathway for what society proudly boasts as the nectar of life: love.
A drawback of this amalgamation of love and ardor is heartbreak, and the intimate and intense pain one human can cause another through the vulnerability of sex. These raw and aching feelings of betrayal and private pain are often considered an innocence lost, for suddenly the world is not so kind, but cloying. Corral uses the imagery of mice or deer to represent innocence itself, so when he writes, “But a mouse can be torn open / like an orange” (67), he is referencing both the fragility of innocence and the sweetness of the fruit of knowledge given to Eve by the serpent. Likening the mouse to a fruit that is meant to be ripped open, shows Corral’s support of the loss of such innocence. In one such poem, a deer follows the speaker, “a scarlet / snake wound / in its dark antlers” (4), highlighting how the snake has poisoned the deer with this new knowledge as it approaches ready to impart its message. In this case, betrayal, heartbreak, and all the pain caused by trust, not only shows the individual who to trust next time, but subsequently, the groundwork of how to form real and supportive relationships in the future. Anna Journey suggests that “the self […] is always engaged in the process of transition." In this way, individuals heal, grow, and learn from such excruciating experiences. Pain may paint wrinkles on porcelain skin, but with such knowledge of the workings of this earth, one soon learns the vital art of creating or breaking bonds with others who inhabit it.
Writers of the romantic period first idealized childhood and then innocence itself, associating it with heavenliness and joy. However, joy does not come from the absence of sexual knowledge, but rather the use of it as a tool for self-discovery and healing. By eating the apple, Eve let the human race experience love, passion, and all the adrenalized moments in life. “A serpent / is a fruit eaten to the core” (22) said Corral, beautifully depicting the dreamlike wonders of such knowledge, even alongside the pain. The musicality of his words, with his sensual images, demonstrates the necessity of such awakenings in us all so that we might eat that dreaded fruit and revel in its sweetness.
Stephanie Woodman is a first-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. Her earlier work can be found as part of the 27th Annual Friends of Ferguson Poetry Competition winners guide, though that was early in 2012. Since then, she has not pursued publication. She enjoys the sciences, with a particular dedication to the research of sleep. In her free time, she eats with a certain passion, or can be found sleeping off a food coma.