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Teresina Gardens with Karnak Palace - State of Piaui

Saint Benedict Church seen from the Gardens of the Karnak Palace
Teresina – State of Piauí – Northeast Brazil
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

My Poetry Corner November 2015 features the poem “Common Poem” (Poema Comum) by contemporary Brazilian poet Graça Vilhena, professor of Classical Portuguese Literature in Teresina, capital of her home state of Piauí. Her poetry, simple in its expression, tells stories of ordinary people in their everyday lives.

In “Common Poem,” Graça Vilhena uses poetic sensibility to address prostitution – affecting the most vulnerable, destitute children and adolescents – in Piauí and across Brazil. The first stanza describes the young woman, the central character of her poem.

The yes girl entered the bar
she looked around, heart in bloom
hair crowning her beauty
her eyes hurled the seed of nights
and readied her mouth passionately
for silent kisses.

The poet refers to her character as the “moça do sim” which literally translates to “yes young woman.” Though my English rendition of “yes girl” lacks poetic rhythm, I opted to retain it for its central social significance. The young prostitute doesn’t or cannot say “no” to the demands of her clients or other men in her life. For this reason, she is vulnerable to male abuse, violence, and homicide.

On entering the bar, she feels on top of the world as a young desirable woman with her “heart in bloom.” Her sexual awakening and profession transform her from a flower in bloom to the producer of “seed of nights” of a mature woman. Her “silent kisses” suggest the lack of intimacy in her sexual encounters.

Interestingly, the second stanza is comprised of only three lines.

She disappeared in the night
laughed loudly at day-break
and returned alone in the morning.

Her night of pleasure is short-lived. When day breaks, she is alone again.

In the third and final stanza, the poet peels away the yes girl’s mask of false happiness.

She tried to spit out her fate
in the drain of the sink
but the weight of the tear
was stronger
safeguarded her heart
shriveled with delusion
escaped in sleep
and dreamt she lived.

With the light of day, the yes girl must confront the travails of her profession. She would like to escape from her fate, but the “weight of the tear” – her own powerlessness to break free – makes it impossible for her to succeed. To survive, she must “safeguard her heart,” shielding it from love and loss. Sleep offers only temporary relief. Living the good life is but a dream.

The title of the poem, “Common Poem,” is unusual as no mention is made of its central character, the “moça do sim.” It appears more like an invitation to the community at large, the general public, to see the world through the eyes of young women trapped in a life of prostitution. They need our help to be set free, to live.

To read the poem in its original Portuguese and my English rendition, and learn more about Graça Vilhena and her work, go to my Poetry Corner November 2015.