#thesealeychallenge, Poetry

Loose Woman #thesealeychallenge

My Day 13 read for #thesealeychallenge was Loose Women by Sandra Cisneros. There are not even words to describe how important this book, and everything written by Sandra Cisneros really, is to me. Her writing came into my life when I was a young, single mother working full-time and going to school full-time, struggling to pay the bills and keep my mental health balanced. I was figuring out how to stop being a free-wheeling party girl and adjust to being up all night with a colicky baby. I hated my post-baby body and could see that I had become unattractive. These poems are fierce and confident and vulnerable, and they gave me what I needed to keep going and believing that I was worthy of love and pleasure. I actually wrote a whole blog about being alone, you can go read that here. 

One of my favorite lines of any poem is, ‘They say I’m a bitch./ Or witch. I’ve claimed/ the same and never winced.’ This collection is full of assertive, powerful, statements of ownership that reclaim the characteristics often thought of as undesirable in women. Because I was lucky enough to be introduced to poetry by badass Chicanas, Cisneros’s strong feminist voice inspired my own. I even have a poem written after her poem, ‘You Bring Out the Mexican In Me,’ that I called, ‘You Bring Out the White Girl in Me.’ Another example of this reclamation from the collection is, ‘Black Lace Bra Kind of Woman’, which also doubles as a love letter to the kind of friends who teach you resilience and are always down for the healing that can come from a good night out. 

The greatest loves of my life are my friends. I am proud of how my friends and I have worked to stay in contact throughout the years. Even if we are not seeing or speaking to each other daily we can pick up from where we left off and are fiercely supportive of each other. I wasn’t always like this, and I went through a pretty intense ‘not like other girls’ stage which I wrote about here. Thankfully those days are long gone, and some of my favorite poems in this collection are about female friendships and bonds. ‘Las Girlfriends’ and  ‘Bienvenido Poem for Sophie’ remind me of all the amazing women I’ve had the honor to call friends. 

Cisneros is often in conversation with her poems. The poem is treated as a living thing that is as real as you or me, or like a child that will say and do what it wants if we don’t care for it and protect it. She addresses her poems by name, brings up her desire to write them, and discusses how her lovers or friends will become poetic inspiration. It is really interesting and has the potential to come across as narcissistic and navel-gazing, but Cisneros avoids this by using accessible language, strong metaphors, and by sticking to themes that bind the poems together as a body. ‘Down There’ (pg. 79) is a great example of this in addition to being one of the best poems about menstruation that I have ever read. Cisneros will often acknowledge that she is thinking of potential poems when she begins a relationship like in the final line of ‘Once Again I Prove the Theory of Relativity’ (pg. 74), “I’ll have savored you like an oyster/ memorized you/ held you under my tongue/ learned you by heart/ So that when you leave/ I’ll write poems.”. 

I’m not a prude, but I was raised Catholic. As much as I know and feel and advocate for sex positivity, I struggle with expressing my own sexuality. I am not publicly sexy, and I probably never will be again. I’ve experienced a lot of slut and body-shaming which has eroded my self-esteem over time. It is *fine* and I’m working on it, but for the moment I feel more comfortable keeping the finer details of my sex and sexual attractions private (also losing my mobility has made my body the human version of a buffering wheel). This book is pretty saucy, but in a way that celebrates confidence and bodies in all their awkwardness and addresses sexual desire from a variety of perspectives. Poems like ‘Love Poem for a Non-Believer’ (pg. 29), ‘En Route to My Lover I Am Detained by Too Many Cities and Human Frailty’ (pg. 26), ‘You Like to Give and Watch Me My Pleasure’ (pg. 23), and ‘I Am So In Love I Grew a New Hymen’ (pg. 16) became my way to translate my desire to partners through the loan of Cisneros’ words. ‘Full Moon and You’re Not Here’ (pg. 54) has another favorite line, “You’re in love with my mind./ But sometimes, sweetheart,/ a woman needs a man/ who loves her ass.” 

Cisneros addresses loneliness and depression and desperation in a way that was so refreshing when I first read it. Cisneros says in ‘The Heart Rounds Up the Usual Suspects’ (pg. 33), “I sleep with the cat/ when no one will have me./When I can’t give it away/ for love or money -.” This poem and ‘Waiting for a Lover’ (pg. 34), ‘Pumpkin Eater’ (pg. 37), and ‘I Am So Depressed I Feel Like Jumping in the River Behind My House but Won’t Because I Am Thirty-Eight and Not Eighteen’ (pg. 39), are all lifelong favorites of mine. Also ‘I Am So Depressed …,’ is possibly the best title of a poem of all time. ‘Small Madness’ (pg. 65), ‘Unos Cuantos Piquetitos’ (pg. 59), ‘I Don’t Like Being in Love’ (pg. 51), and ‘After Everything’ (pg. 41) address the stigma of being an emotional woman, a woman who is sad and jealous and eccentric. I have been all of these throughout my life, sometimes all at once. This collection affirmed what I was struggling to accept in my early and mid-twenties: it is ok to bring my whole self into my relationships and if I’m asked to compromise that, both I and the other person will probably end up hurt. 

There are other poems that give words to some of the small moments of life that can rechart our course or that we feel are insignificant. Cisneros has a way of making these feelings and images and thoughts sing. I love the poem, ‘A Man in My Bed Like Cracker Crumbs’ (pg. 96) which is a few simple lines of images that capture what it is like to return happily to a solitary life when a lover has left. In ‘I Am On My Way To Oklahoma to Bury the Man I Nearly Left My Husband For’ (pg. 70), she discusses attending the funeral of a man with whom she had an affair and she does this in a way that is subtle and heartbreaking and that summarizes how complicated love can be. I love ‘Perras’ (pg. 58) for the frank way that it addresses a brown man dating a white woman and how it feels when someone chooses a white woman despite all the ways that we understand racism and colorism to work. ‘El Alacran Guero’ (pg. 45) touches on this issue as well, using the metaphor of a white scorpion to discuss how difficult interracial relationships can be. 

Anyway, I love every part of this book as evidenced by the dog-eared and coffee-stained pages of my copy. I would recommend it to everyone, but I think if you are feeling a little untethered from all the ways that love enters our lives this book could help you get grounded.