1105: Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso by Eduardo C. Corral

20240426 Slowdown

1105: Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso by Eduardo C. Corral


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

In my nearly thirty years of editing and teaching poetry, I’ve witnessed poetic forms come into fashion… then — go out of fashion.

You’d be hard pressed to find, for example, pantoums and villanelles in literary journals. These two forms, once popular in the 90s, were giving “preppy” in an age of in-your-face luxury pieces like slam and spoken word performances. As in street fashion, many factors influence poetic styles, most prominently, a desire to be at once in a tradition, but also an original, an outsider.

Poet Terrance Hayes’ golden shovel fiercely hit the runway of popular imagination. Jericho Brown’s duplex became its own craze in creative writing workshops. These forms not only spawned imitators but have since become mainstay fixtures in poetry anthologies.

This can also be said of centos and erasure poems, which show up in many a slush pile. It wasn’t too long ago that the ghazal hung out exclusively in MFA programs and writing conferences. It too now sits prominently as part of our literary heritage.

We’ve practically said goodbye to sestinas but, like platform sneakers and oversized shirts, one feels they’ll someday make a strong comeback. The sonnet, of course, is the classic t-shirt of poetic forms and never goes out of style. It can either be dressed up or dressed down.

These days, we are loving reading and writing self-portrait poems, what I call the “verbal selfie.” It allows the author to be the runway, to elevate themselves into the frame of language. In so doing, the poet, like the author of today’s poem, experiments with perceptions of the self. I like how the poet in Rembrandt-fashion mythologizes himself in the lyric.

Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso
by Eduardo C. Corral

I’m drumroll and voyeur.
     I’m watermark
and fable. I’m weaving
     the snarls
of a wolf through my hair
     like ribbon. At my feet,

     and jigsaws. I’m
     an autopsy on my shadow.
My rib cage a wall.
     My heart
a crack in a wall,
     a foothold. I’m tumbling

     a French acrobat. I’m judder
and effigy.
     I’m pompadour
and splendid. I’m spinning
     on a spit, split
in half.

     An apple
in my mouth. I know
     what Eve
didn’t know: a serpent
     is a fruit eaten to the core. I’m 
a massacre
     of the dreamers,

a terra cotta soldier
     waiting for
his emperor’s return.
     When I bow,
a black fish leaps
     from the small of my back.
I catch it.

     I tear it apart. I fix
the scales
     to my lips.
Every word I utter
     is opalescent. I’m skinned
and Orphic.
     I’m scarlet

and threshold. At my touch,
     a piano
melts like a slab
     of black ice. I’m 
steam rising,
     dissipating. I’m a ghost undressing.
I’m a cowboy

     riding bareback.
My soul is
above my head like a lasso.
     My right hand 
a pistol. My left
     automatic. I’m knocking

on every door.
     I’m coming on strong,
like a missionary.
     I’m kicking back
my legs, like a mule. I’m kicking up
     my legs, like
a showgirl.  

“Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso” by Eduardo C. Corral from SLOW LIGHTNING © 2012 Eduardo C. Corral. Used by permission of Yale University Press.