An Engagement with Eduardo Corral's Slow Lightning

by Sam Powers

Eduardo Corral, Slow Lightning (Yale, 2012)

“I learned to make love to a man / by touching my father,” writes Eduardo C. Corral in his debut poetry collection, Slow Lightning, which explores the challenge of coming to grips with a marginalized identity in an unaccepting society (49). In this work, Corral examines the relationship between illegal immigrants and Americans, masters and slaves, homosexuality and masculinity, and father and son. In Anna Journey’s review of Slow Lightning, she suggests that “the self… is always engaged in the process of transition,” an issue Corral tackles by combining many of the contrasting relationships, such as masculinity and homosexuality, to shed light on how identities can be contradictory or fluid. However, Corral goes beyond showing the way the self is always changing; through the juxtaposition of themes and imagery, Corral reflects on the process of accepting and ultimately celebrating one’s own identity when it does not necessarily fit into a predefined norm.

It’s particularly interesting how Corral combines the father son relationship with opposing ideas of homosexuality and masculinity in order to force the reader to view a commonly nonsexual relationship in a sexual way. The poem that solidifies the conflicting relationship between the father and son’s culture and sexuality is “Ditat Deus,” which demonstrates how the father’s culture and son’s sexuality clash through their interactions. Corral begins the second part of the poem with a taboo idea: “I learned to make love to a man / by touching my father” (49). By beginning here and by utilizing more intimate words such as “trace” and “drag,” the poem carries a sexual tone even though the majority of the poem isn’t explicitly sexual. The rest of the poem describes common interactions between the speaker and his father, such as taking off his boots or helping him shave, but in the context of the poem they become more akin to undressing and caressing a lover. Looking at these father/son interactions in a sexual manner reveals the speaker’s struggle of expressing his own sexuality caused by his father and most other men in his life being manifestations of traditional Latino machismo. Since the speaker does not conform directly to the cultural norms that his father does, it leaves him unsure of how to embrace his culture and personal ideas of sexuality and identity.

This unorthodox relationship is explored in many poems, such as “Want,” where Corral juxtaposes the speaker’s first homosexual experience with the very masculine father figure. The majority of the poem is describing the father’s struggle to survive while immigrating alone, forcing him to kill a lizard and eat it. However, there is a shift at the end of the poem when the speaker describes a homosexual experience: “the first / time I knelt for a man, my / lips pressed to his zipper, /  I suffered such hunger” (Corral 17). Suddenly, all of the masculinity coming from the father gets compared to the son’s homosexuality diminishing the masculine tone, but by comparing the two, Corral shows the connection between the father’s immigration and the son’s own homosexual liberation. Thus, the two opposing parts of his identity can work together.

In the poem “Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso” Corral explores and celebrates the idea of having multiple identities with the speaker giving apposing descriptions of himself: “I’m a cowboy // riding bareback,” and “I’m spinning / on a spit, split / in half” (21, 23). The speaker is naming everything that he is. The descriptions are contradictory and don’t usually go together, as seen in the two quotes above, but when they are put together it creates a harmonious portrait of everything that makes up the speaker’s identity. The last stanza represents this and shows the speakers resistance and eventual acceptance of his identity:

I’m knocking

 

on every door…
       I’m kicking back
my legs, like a mule. I’m kicking up
       My legs, like
a showgirl. (Corral 23)

The speaker knocking on every door is symbolic of the search for his identity, and at first he is resistant, kicking back like a mule, before coming to terms with who he is by kicking up like a showgirl. The conflicting cultural and gender norms which Corral explores in “Ditat Dues” are found in similes that Corral uses to describe resistance, a mule, and acceptance, a showgirl. The acceptance of identity that the speaker found in this poem is developed further into actual celebration of the self and all its different elements.

“Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” shows that Corral is able to celebrate the combination of his Chicano and homosexual identity. The poem, full of dream-like magical realism with its roots in Latin American literature, ends with homosexually-driven lines. However, in poems such as “Want,” the aspects of culture and sexuality work primarily against each other; in “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” the two aspects are found working together as seen in the last lines of the poem:

The mules surround me:
Necks bent,
             nostrils pluming out different lengths
                                       of breath.

 

          I toss off my robe. A mule
Curls its tongue around
                                    my erection. I throw
my head back,
            & stare at the slowest lightning
            the stars. (Corral 72)

The image of a mule has been seen as a symbol of resistance in “Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso.” Mules are common images in Latin culture, so they come to symbolize the traditional values of Latin and Chicano culture. Similarly, in the last lines of this poem the mules surround the speaker, showing the pressure to follow in the footsteps of his heritage. The speaker doesn’t conform with the mules; instead, he disrobes, revealing himself completely before a mule “curls its tongue around [his] erection” (Corral 72). Disrobing shows the speaker’s acceptance and confidence, and by engaging with the mule, a symbol of resistance and Latin culture, it shows how the speaker is able to come to terms with his cultural and sexual identity in tandem. The acceptance and celebration of the speaker’s identity and culture finally allows him to throw his head back and just stare at the stars in peace.

In Slow Lightning, Corral explores how the different parts of one’s identity can be contradictory through the juxtaposition masculine, cultural, and homosexual imagery. In many the poems, Corral exposes the disconnect between one’s heritage and own personal identity, leading to many conflicts in acceptance of the self, but shows the ultimate importance of accepting and celebrating all parts of an identity in order to find an inner unity and peace.

Works Cited

Corral, Eduardo. Slow Lightning. Yale UP, 2012.
Journey, Anna. “Watermark and Fable: On Eduardo C. Corral's Slow Lightning.” A Review of Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, The Kenyon Review, 2013,
 


Sam Powers is a first-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. This is his first publication. His main prospect in life is to become a cobbler and live out a Whitmanesque lifestyle in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.