fungus skull eye wing: Selected Poems of Alfonso D'Aquino


Poetry. Translation. FUNGUS SKULL EYE WING is a book of shifting subjectivity and liquid perspective, of surrealist tradition and Butoh- like gestures. The text flirts with the margins of the "rational," perception, and the subjective mind. The speaker morphs into what he observes; speech comes alive while a plant becomes speech. Impeccably translated from Spanish by award- winning poet Forrest Gander in a bilingual edition.

"Alfonso D'Aquino was raised by his grandmother in an old house attached to a colonial ...

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Poetry. Translation. FUNGUS SKULL EYE WING is a book of shifting subjectivity and liquid perspective, of surrealist tradition and Butoh- like gestures. The text flirts with the margins of the "rational," perception, and the subjective mind. The speaker morphs into what he observes; speech comes alive while a plant becomes speech. Impeccably translated from Spanish by award- winning poet Forrest Gander in a bilingual edition.

"Alfonso D'Aquino was raised by his grandmother in an old house attached to a colonial convent in Coyoacán, Mexico. He never met his parents. Books were his best friends from an early age. Often solitary, he spent many afternoons at a small aquarium in the nearby town of San Ángel, fascinated then as now by the non- human."—Forrest Gander

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The first stanza of the poem "13" concretely defines the raison d'être of D'Aqunio's first-ever English collection: "As I walk, I'm holding in mind/ two visions in counterpoint,/ or better yet two co-penetrating visions:/ the carnal abyss where all empties out/ and my vivid perception of airborne threads/ that interweave and connect everything." Two visions inhabit the book: one of observations and one of the body. Consider the poem "(green fluorite)," which begins with this reflection: "The contact/ between the feeble cobalt-/ colored radiation/ of this opaque piece/ of green fluorite/ I hold between fingers/ gives rise." VERDICT Because so much space is dedicated here to the natural world and its particulars, one could confidently label D'Aquino's work "nature poetry," lumping him in with poets Mary Oliver (American Primitive) and Wendell Berry (The Unsettling of America), even though translator Gander—finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for his poetry collection Core Samples for the World—nudges us away from such a label in the book's introduction.—Stephen Morrow, Hilliard, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556594472
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Pages: 110
  • Sales rank: 778,984
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Alfonso D'Aquino is an editor, poetry instructor, snake handler, and author of six books. He was born in Mexico City in 1959 and currently lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico. His poetry is included in the landmark anthology REVERSIBLE MONUMENTS: CONTEMPORARY MEXICAN POETRY (Copper Canyon Press, 2002).
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Forrest Gander

Alfonso D’Aquino was raised by his grandmother in an old house attached to a colonial convent in Coyoacán, Mexico. Books were his best friends from an early age. Often solitary, he spent many afternoons at a small aquarium in the nearby town of San Ángel, fascinated then as now by the non-human world.

D’Aquino makes his living as an editor and he teaches occasional poetry workshops that have become as renowned and influential as those “Poetry as Magic” sessions that Jack Spicer conducted at the start of the San Francisco Renaissance. But D’Aquino’s poems are less like Spicer’s than they are, on occasion, like Hart Crane’s.

In “Zagreus,” the poem that composes the middle sequence of this collection, we encounter the kind of private erotics that characterize so many of the poems in
Crane’s White Buildings. In addition to both poets’ recourse to feminine iambic
couplets, Crane’s “stone of lust,” his “crocus lustres of the stars,” his “signature of the incarnate word,” and his many references to mirrors and to Dionysus (who is linked to Zagreus) reverberate profoundly throughout D’Aquino’s work.

Where Alfonso D’Aquino currently lives, in the outskirts of Cuernavaca, the
vegetation is jungly and the electricity goes out for days at a time. There are stars and behind the stars, stars. Snakes are his talismanic animals and he has names for the different lizards doing push-ups on hot volcanic rocks in his garden. He collects local plants and knows their medicinal uses.

Octavio Paz recognized his talent early on and championed his work. At the age of 22, he was awarded the prestigious Carlos Pellicer Poetry Prize. Despite the early acclaim, D’Aquino has stayed clear of the combative circles of poets who live, by and large, in Mexico City. For a long time, he has chosen the solitude, the land, the ceiba trees. It’s his attentiveness to the music (including the silence) of his body within particular landscapes that most distinguishes his writing. The prosody of his poems is nuanced, the rhythms counterpointed. The greatest difficulty in translating his work is trying to finding new arrangements for his orchestrations of sound.

His many published books include such titles as Vibora breve (Small Viper), Basilisco (Basilisk), Naranja verde (Green Orange), and Piedra no piedra (Rock No Rock). Yet, apart from this selection, there are no books of Alfonso D’Aquino’s work available in English. There are, however, translations by Rebecca Seiferle in the notable anthology Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry, and in literary magazines, I’ve come across excellent translations made by Roberto Tejada and by James Ryang.

One of Alfonso D’Aquino’s lifelong concerns is the world that takes place parallel to the human world and our attitude toward it. Often, the syntax of his poetry braids together strands of relationship, emphasizing the mutuality of perceptual experience—the intertwining of the seer and the seen. In this sense, even though his poems are more bodily in their orientation than those of other poets in Mexico, his work has an intensely spiritual quality. A subjective point of view is nourished and sustained by its surround— the rocks, vipers, trees, and stars.

Before there was such a word as “eco-poetry,” Alfonso D’Aquino was writing poems registering the complex interdependency that draws us into dialogue with the world. Not “nature poetry” as topic and commentary, but poetry as exploration (both formal and thematic) of the relationships between nature and culture, body and feeling, language and perception.

The Wolf ’s Dream / intaglio

Cabal of grackles
swarming a piece of meat

The wolf dreamed / some black birds
pierced its skin with their beaks /--and it was true

One circled / grazing the wolf’s jowls
and landed in a tree / to caw in silence

Another plugs away / with splayed legs
at what remains of a carcass/ in the dirt

Green black grackle / eyeing the sky
standing on a stump / its neck iridescing

The grackle returns / while the wolf sleeps
its white fur ruddied / and the bird getting bolder

It plucks up with its bill / an open black eye
and shaking its wings / plants the eye in the ground

The wolf’s dream reeks of blood / buried eyelids
and it’s bothered / by all the bird calls

Green black grackle / raven's head
one bird in another / iridescing the wind

Vertical Fish/ graffiti

traced with a finger on the salty surface of a wall
with a bladder of dry blood it floats in rock its skeleton outside it
fish fish hook round hole
its feather-duster mouth stitched with blue wires
through skin water sucks in through skin water is expelled
lidless nameless fossil adrift hot and ocher
x-ray of the fish at its peak its radiant spume
mineralized when caves were still filled with tranquil water
phosphorescing into the foggy stone
thorn hidden in the corners of laughter
a dense green mist in each pocket of flesh or primal water
forms a nest of saliva on the facing wall
lytic fish hatchetfish awl fish fish knifing through water
volcanic glass fish in the dawn of animality
dark magnetism in the cranial hollow extinct fish before language
cerulean naked fixed spherical spindle-shaped cylindrical red
discerning stormwater from wastewater
dorsal fins atrophied in the genetic play of crossbreeding fish
column and hole
indistinguishable from crowded zeros to the left of black sea urchins
it hears through the plaster to the interior wall
between stones chock-full with painted animals that nothing illuminates
the fish emerging from the fish when its skeleton isn’t any longer a cage
golden saliva and fugitive music
unable to sense the putrefaction of new tail-stems on the ground
hanging fish
unimaginably distorted returned to the bitter water under the tongue
the salt-tortured liquid in abysses that illumine
fish fish hook round hole
the moon’s thorn piercing its throat
its internal skeleton dissolving in the quicksilver of a mirror
a green sun phosphorescing under black water
fossa of the thirsting fish imagined by another fish in its desert
rows of iridescent thorns below the stars
below the mud of time fish eating fish the surest verity
violet scales throughout all the earth’s layers
red salt lustrous on the broken glass scales
the female whose caudal fin stiffens as she spawns the first egg
fingernail fish the skylight opened
through skin water sucks in through skin water expelled
scream of a fish drooling mortified in its leafy bed
in silence it sings in silence like a bouquet of salt in the mind

from Digitaria exilis

When rain comes / the sky smudges out
bright spittle / of a black dog

Beyond the tuneless / crow’s face
I make out a clearer sphere / parallactic

A recessive hidden sphere / barely there
unsuspected half / enlightening

The crystalline seed / disquiets the night
a nostalgia for Sirius / under my tongue

And the diamond star / no one has yet seen
floating through my mind / a grain of millet

Written on a Grain of Salt

In the mindful light of the stars
Halite / salt / fate
Reading the salt
Water and stone / the first earth
Saliva’s salt
Fathomless dawn alive in my skull / lips backlit with incandescence
Air and salt / nothing else
Salt Eros

White mountains / at hand
A fly licking the salt
Each face / reflects / another sky / reflected
Adarce of light in the leaves
Geometric constructions / of the mind’s water
Fractures in salt flowers/ reversed in fissures / fissures /in fossilizing salt
Cryptic minerals / colorless and pure
Elemental mind salt

Ah the marvelous distances of the umbratile
Minimum emerge / as lucid invisible / untranslucent salt / silica

Ecrypted in its white script / as the star in each grain
Reflective / reflectant / reflected . . . water
And on my lips . . . its traces

a / Net

It dissembles its loveliness
with an air of indifference
and its complicated shadow
reflects in the water

Under so pure a tissue
of transparent threads
the rock registers a pulse
projected from the source

And the shadow projected
across water blends
and goes so white and lucid
that it dilutes itself in the water

The dark and fleshless light
unveils the surface
a turbid water transluces
and bares its roots

Sheer depths black threads
snared in the water
a fixed hairnet
wrapped around the statue

The transparent structure
with its hovering shadow
is refracted in dark water
spoiling its clarity

The shadow of a missing image
in a tenuous warp of veins
stains the water at its source
and from below beckons

Its Verb’s Forked Tongue

Its verb’s forked tongue
Transforms transnominates
translucent line
the viper the verb
translades its shadow
Tattoo freak
from rows of spots
a star transudes
a language of scales
Transposes transleafs
myriads of hours
transmigrates transtombs
transversing the leaf
As it glides the floor
its transverse wand
transforms it
into an other word
Its double writing
of skin and track
transcribed in sand
a star’s path
The lymph transcript
transluces behind glass
other inks
transfusing twilight
Sand or saliva
transposes the letters
and over the points
casts its web
Each word a translucent
moving along
saying nothing
Mobile script
of fields and forces
that shift and transmute
over grains of sand
the transdreaming dream
transnatures its hiss
inseverable from
divine Verse
and the decisive Sign

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