Cross-eyed chachalacas in the haze of a Texas morning, pushing past toothless abuelas, shadow puppets, and dead butterflies--this is the place where La Llorona and Allen Ginsberg converse next to piñatas and saints, this is the borderland of Anzaldúa, this place of in-between and ambiguity, this place called home. Unwoven, a collection of poems by Erika Garza-Johnson, is published by FlowerSong Books, an imprint of VAO Publishing, and contains 84 poems by one of the most original Rio Grande Valley voices. With prose, free verse, list, litany and language poems, Garza’s collection is an organic composition of subjects, moods, and styles that strategically code switches from English to Spanish, Tex-Mex, and Pocha. Garza’s work feels Beat, feels like excavating las historias de la gente we must not talk about, to whom Unwoven replies:
how do you steal your own memory
mimic your own voice…
so I’ve sealed
my own heart away
and sent it to silencio
ripped my hands off
erased my face and
drowned my past in the
Rio Grande (3)
Within this collection you will find heridas beating tenderly and feverishly, una pinche princess, Jesucristo blessing prostitutes and humming alabanzas, paleteros con beersicles, electric tight rope walking tlacuaches, Madonna by tinacos, cantina noches and jazz-less barrios. Using subjects like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg in juxtaposition to Mesoamerican deities like Coatlicue and Mayahuel, Garza is a nepantlera negotiating her positionality as a daughter, mother, wife, sister, and academic. Her most heartfelt poems are those like “Urraca Song” and “Cross Roads” where her images grapple with the decolonization of spirituality subverting as Laura Medina stated the “dominant cultural norms which traditionally places spiritual authority in hands of male mediators who can easily orchestrate a monopoly of the sacred” (Facio 67). With prayer, Garza challenges the patriarchy of the church that in “Urraca Song” condemns her marriage as nonexistent in the eyes of God:
I prayed to the moon, to the sun, to the butterfly that was lost
in the weeds. I prayed to the cat that sleeps all day and plays
with bottle caps at night…I prayed to Facebook. I tweeted a message
to a goddess I met at metropolis on Goth Night. She wore Doc Martens.
She was my ghost. There is a God and…she lives, somewhere all of
my ancestors feast on peace. (83)
With Unwoven, Garza weaves a new heart, a huipil that suits her (15), tackling the difficulty of subjects like rape, immigration, homesickness, love, and loss. With poems like “Labeled” and “Llorona RIP”, Garza’s work could be misconstrued as Post-Chicana; however with references in her work to cultural historical elements, environmental injustices, and criticism of cultural appropriation, Garza’s work utilizes a Chicana Feminist praxis making Unwoven a great addition to any Chicana Literature or Creative Writing Course.
Facio, Elisa. "Spirit Journey: "Home" as a Site for Healing and Transformation." Fleshing the Spirit: Spirituality and Activism in Chicana, Latina and Indigenous Women's Lives. 1st ed. Tuson: U of Arizona, 2014. 67. Print.
Veronica Sandoval is Lady Mariposa, a poeta from the Rio Grande Valley Tejas. She is currently a graduate student in the Critical Cultural Gender and Race Studies Department at Washington State University. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies and publications like: Revista Literaria de El Tecolote, BorderSenses, Boundless, The Savant Poetry Anthology, El Mundo Zurdo III, New Border, Along the River, Gallery & Lung Poetry. She has a Spoken Word Poetry Album called Hecha en El Valle, Spoken Word and Borderland Beats which is available on ITunes. When she is not running around doing super Chicana power stuff, she is at home with the Chubby Vato of her heart, and their cat named Boots.