A New Edition of Sandra Cisneros's Poetry Looks at the "Girl Grief Decade"
Few of us can wring art from our grief as Sandra Cisneros has, here.
My Wicked Wicked WaysPublisher: Vintage
Length: 128 pages
Author: Sandra Cisneros
Publication date: 2015-05
Saucy yet sad, Sandra Cisneros’ My Wicked Wicked Ways is a poetic dispatch from the trenches of the lone woman writer. Originally published in 1987, the book has seen two reprints, most recently in April.
In a poetic preface added to the 1992 edition, Cisneros calls My Wicked Wicked Ways a reflection of "the girl grief decade". These were years of travel, of assignations, of the "felony" act of making poetry.
At the time, Cisneros hoped for an elusive "all": husband, children, writing. Research for this review found Cisneros living in Central Mexico, sharing her home with animals large and small. They don’t include a husband or children.
My Wicked Wicked Ways divides into four sections: South/2100 West; My Wicked Wicked Ways; Other Countries and; The Rodrigo Poems. South/2100 West opens with "Velorio".
The narrator, a young girl, is playing outside with friends Rachel and Lucy. The girls run into Lucy’s living room, where Lucy’s sister, a dead infant, lies in a "satin box like a valentine". Horror aside, the image clashes impossibly with the flushed vitality of the three little girls.
Thus, Cisneros sets the tone. There will be no taking of tea in hushed rooms. Instead, feet kick in doors. Rocks sail through windows. Records crack over heads. "Curtains" hide furnishings that aren’t paid for, shoddy apartment interiors, walls painted in the wrong colors.
In the second section, My Wicked Wicked Ways, the poet begins with discovering herself. And that self is "bad", not destined to become a docile wife and mother. She is "I the Woman", "notorious", the Thursday night woman.
In "The Poet Reflects on Her Solitary Fate", Cisneros writes of being the sole daughter, the youngest, who "has abandoned the brothers", who in turn have "left her/ to her own device". That device is poetry.
"Other Countries" offers distance, but not necessarily escape. "December 24, Paris-Notre-Dame" refers not to a holiday in Paris but an implied suicide in the Seine. The lovely men of Europe are either married or, like Jahn Franco, given to implausible fabrications. ("Letter to Jahn Franco-Venice") There are goodbyes, to Cesare, to Natale, to Richard. You know it’s really over when there are "No shoes. No angry doors." ("To Cesare, Goodbye" "Trieste", "Ciao to Italy", "One Last Poem for Richard").
My Wicked Wicked Ways concludes with The Rodrigo Poems. It is unfortunate that "unforgettable" has become a trite term, for these poems truly are. Every woman has a Rodrigo in her life. But few of us can wring art from our grief as Cisneros has, here.
The story begins domestically: "A woman cutting celery." Not fixing the car, or oiling her shotgun. Nope, this woman is in the kitchen, and she’s waiting. From there, "we are a zoo" ("Valparaiso"). She is a "middle-of-the-week wife" ("For All Tuesday Travelers"), who is wondering about the other wives, the legally wedded ones. Rodrigo has had two, who have mysteriously gathered their possessions and "vamoosed" ("No Mercy").
Ever the domestic poet, Cisneros makes reference to housecleaning as ritual, here and in the collection, Loose Woman. In "Rodrigo Returns to the Land and Linen Celebrates", said linen is "dizzy" and "puffed". Deflation is certain. It arrives with "Monsieur Mon Ami", when Rodrigo announces his departure. He offers no explanation.
The truth is devastating yet prosaic: a wife. The next poem, entitled "Drought", signifies the beginning of the end, the time, Nora Ephron famously wrote, when she craved mashed potatoes. Cisneros isn’t so lighthearted.
My Wicked Wicked Ways closes with "Tantas Cosas Asustan, Tantas", which is untranslated. In Border Crossings and Beyond: The Life and Works of Sandra Cisneros, author Carmen Haydée Rivera translates the title as "so many things frighten", adding the poem’s genesis was a nightmare of Cisneros’. Rivera also notes Cisneros’ use of the word papalotes (kites) in the poem, signifying hope.
Now 61, Cisneros hasn’t published a novel since 2002’s Caramelo. Nor has there been new poetry since 1994’s Loose Woman. Clearly she works in the vein of Eugenides and Tartt: Cisneros’s fans must wait. And wait. In October she will publish a book of essays, A House of My Own. Until then, we must content ourselves with rereading’s lesser pleasures.