Brazil, 1968



Claudia Cortese, Poetry



In Brazil, the military regime gained

a world-wide reputation for brutal and “inventive”

torture of political prisoners.  - Robert Cohen



She thinks she’ll be killed

but is taken to a hospital,

given a cotton gown


that smells of talcum powder.

On her nightstand, tulips bloom

from a crystal vase. Nurses take


her temperature, bring eggs

with yolks bright as coins,

bread evenly toasted.


One day a guard comes in and smiles,

It’s time for your operation;

we’re going to cure you.


Doctors remove her lips, sewing

shut surrounding skin.

A hole is cut into her cheek


so she can drink.

The woman visits my office.

She writes the story


on a piece of paper. She’s lived

like this for years. I cancel

my appointments, promise


to do what I can. I lead her

to the back room. The surgery

lasts twelve hours.


I unstitch her mouth—

her teeth were plucked out,

two dog fangs forced into her gums.


It takes all evening to write my notes.

I don’t have words to describe

the place where her lips used to be.