Mexican poet, teacher and translator Coral Bracho was born in Mexico City in 1951. She has published several books, two in English thanks to poet-translator Forrest Gander, who has put this composite volume together, the first extensive compilation of Bracho’s work to be published in the UK.

A wide selection from Bracho’s earlier collections is accompanied by the entirety of the eponymous new book dedicated to her mother, who died of complications due to Alzheimer’s. “Although composed of individual poems,” writes Gander, “It Must Be a Misunderstanding is really a deeply affecting book-length work whose force builds as the poems cycle through their sequences. The ‘plot’ follows a general trajectory – from early to late Alzheimer’s – with non-judgemental affection and compassionate watchfulness. We come to know an opinionated, demonstrative elderly woman whose resilience, in the face of her dehiscent memory, becomes most clear in her adaptive strategies. The poems involve us in the mind’s bafflement and wonder, in its creative quick-change adjustments, and in the emotional drama that draws us across the widening linguistic gaps that reroute communication.”

 

(Observations)

The puzzle pieces
get lost but not the look
she knows to be hers.
The forms, the objects, they merge,
they crumble; but a feeling
for the ensemble remains: between moments,
between fictions,
despite constant fractures. Like a threshold,
a hand hold.

 

(Observations)

That bird,
dropping down to peck the asphalt
so close to her foot, is something
she’s never encountered before.
There’s nothing to compare it with;
nothing that links it to that cat,
nothing it shares
with that bush.
They’re all unanticipated tenants;
convincing presences
in a space that, for the moment,
we share with them. There aren’t kingdoms
that harbor them or separate them out
into their particular territories,
no words
that link them together. This thing here,
fluttering its wings now
and hopping between the grass and the dust,
it has no likeness.

 

(Alzheimer’s. Follow-up)

Who is the President of this country?
—Well, it depends; for some
it’s one person; for others it’s someone else.
What is this called?
—I don’t know, doctor, because I don’t use
that; only you do.
How many children do you have?
—Quite a few.

What did you used to do?
—Now you’re going to ask me
to draw a clock.
Did you like to dance?
—Yes, of course, of course I danced.
And did you ever travel?
—Yes, naturally.
Where to?
—Well, to the same place everyone went.

 

(Intuitions)

Which thread is the one that tells our story
and lends us substance
when there’s no trajectory
by which to make sense of ourselves?
Which thread are we sure is vital?
The one that, maybe, ties together the handful of gestures
that comprise us; so we feel
we still have control. Gestures
that we repeat as certainties; that delineate
those certainties which once shaped us
and which now delimit
and nail us
to our shadows. Certainties
whose meaning and origin we don’t know,
but which nevertheless enclose
and protect us, like dive helmets
or grilles;
which still let us look through them
into the world:
that disquieting, incomprehensible
strangeness.

 

Coral Bracho was born and still lives and teaches in Mexico City. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including Ese espacio, ese jardín (2003) which won the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize. Her poetry was translated for the Poetry Translation Center’s 2005 World Poets’ Tour by Tom Boll and poet Katherine Pierpoint. Her honours include the Aguacalientes National Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. It Must Be a Misunderstanding, translated by Forrest Gander, is published by Carcanet Press in paperback and eBook.
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Author portrait © Gustavo Durán

Forrest Gander, a writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, was born in the Mojave Desert and lives in California. He is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. His many translations include Then Come Back: the Lost Neruda PoemsAlice, Iris, Red Horse: Selected Poems of Gozo Yoshimasu, and Firefly Under the Tongue: Poems by Coral Bracho.
forrestgander.com

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