cover image Guillotine


Eduardo C. Corral. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-64445-030-7

The devastating and electrifying second book from Corral (Slow Lightning) features an imagined multivoiced narrative at the U.S.-Mexican border and its surrounding deserts. The speakers are desperate, thirsty, bleeding, their plights depicted with urgent, stream-of-consciousness fragments blending English and Spanish. Bleak circumstances are rendered hauntingly melodic: “Walked toward a mountain./ Coolness fell through the heat./ Guillotine./ Rested./ Fought off the oldest smuggler./ Yellow teeth.” One speaker cleans the sores on their feet with nail polish remover while dwelling on the carnage that litters the Sonoran Desert: “A headless corpse/ sporting a T-shirt/ that reads ‘Superstar’.” Beyond the “Testaments” poems, Corral reckons with a queer awakening in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, most strikingly in “Autobiography of My Hungers,” in which the young speaker states: “Thinness,/ in my mind, equals the gay men/ on the nightly news./ Kissed by death & public scorn.” The speaker’s mother remarks on his slim appearance, causing him to consume an entire cake alone in his room, a symbol of shame and existential terror. Shot through with the dark realities of human tragedy, Corral’s latest is a virtuosic compendium of grief. (Aug.)