Claudia Rosemary Coutu’s Tracing Your Ribs

First published in Ribbons 1:3, Autumn 2005, page 21. In 2010, the following book was republished, in a bilingual French/English edition, retitled as Your Hands Discover Me, with the following review as its introduction (slightly revised from the following for its appearance in the book).
Tracing Your Ribs by Claudia Rosemary Coutu. 14 pages, self-published, 2004. Available for $7.00 postpaid in U.S. funds or $9.00 postpaid in Canadian funds from the author at 49 McArthur Avenue, Carlton Place, ON K7C 2W1, Canada.


This unassuming and simple book surprises with its openness and intensity, both borne of heady passion. Tracing Your Ribs is a collection of 33 tanka that explore the love, sexuality, and eroticism—not necessarily in that order—of a chance encounter on a road trip. The Canadian author tells of crossing the border into New York, where we learn the following:



        the Canadians once beat the pants

        off the Americans here

        I use

        more gentle strategies


Some poems are overt in their eroticism:


        I hold the pear                                                          afternoon sun

        in one hand                                                                all the plastic

        then the other                                                          in the car too hot to touch

        your cool palms                                                        there you are

        on my breasts                                                           inside of me


Other poems offer relative restraint:


        lines of cut hay                                                          full moon

        follow                                                                           rising through cedars

        the curved hills                                                         it is like that

        my fingers                                                                   brief glimpses

        tracing your ribs                                                        then fullness


Though affairs of the body may not please everyone as a subject, the book is unabashedly—perhaps refreshingly—frank:


        so many drivers                                                        French Canadian Customs Officer

        never get the idea                                                   you didn’t buy ‘anything’?

        of the fast lane                                                         he blushed when I said no

        it all depends                                                             I have been making love

        on lace underthings                                                for the past twenty four hours


These poems are not the usual love topics common to tanka, obliquely hinted at, but poems of direct and wanton passion. As the author says of her encounter in the book’s brief introduction, “Everything is changed; all seems alive, immediate, urgent.” The reader may feel a similar urgency, and perhaps envy, after reading through this breathy and breathless tanka collection. That Tracing Your Ribs may be capable of producing envy testifies to the engagement and honesty of these poems.