Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Plague-Time Reading, Though It Didn't Start Out Like That

Review: Gris Muñoz. Coatlicue Girl. FlowerSong Press, McAllen, TX. 2019.
ISBN 978-1-733-8092-4-5. 
Publisher update: The publisher's name and link are now as shown and here's the link.

Michael Sedano

Coatlicue Girl excites a person at the prospect of what’s inside a book that looks like this: that 2-tongued title, the graphic of a calavera-faced woman ambiguously holding a mantilla at her waist, a Zapatista visage between her breasts, a birthing sculpture at her feet, the author’s name, Gris Muñoz…then I notice those pequeñas letters saying -Poems and Stories- and I smile. Check out the Title Page to see what tickled me. The book’s formal name, its ISBN name, is Coatlicue Girl. A Bilingual Collection of Poems and Stories.
You know that old question, “How do I know it’s Chicana Literature?” Here's an example of what makes Cuatlicue Girl genuinely Chicanx Lit. Chicana Literature. Chicano Literature.

Our gente are cool on the outside, and if we need to be, todo formal and adapted to exogenous manners on the inside. Like this book shows its professional manners and appropriate behavior, an Introduction by Luis Urrea, and the author's preface, plus an epigram by ire'ne lara silva.

Coatlicue Girl actually begins on page 11, and that’s where I’d start reading, skip the preliminaries until you’ve made up your own mind by allowing the work and the author to speak for herself.

Selves. There’s the English Coatlicue Girl, there’s the Mexican. The English speaker does most of the talking and acts all tough with titles like “Chingona.” But sabes que? She’s a sensitive soul, the little girl in church who can’t sit still, whose fears and emotions mirror personal trauma. Readers find this vulnerable girl wants not to chingar but nurture.

Selves. In "Indian Clay", her persona lives a complicated story about beauty, benign stereotypy, cryptic irony, and horror. The little girl is gulled by a benignly ignorant teacher into believing she could fashion valuable art from dirt the woman called “Indian clay.” The woman stands in front of a mirror, gulled by standards of beauty. She dons a clay mask that promises it controls wrinkles. Her white face in the mirror sets off the episode. She’s a cutter, that kind of an episode. Coatlicue Girl scissors chunks of flesh from her eyebrows, painting her face with dripping blood. And the woman remembers the girl sitting Indian style being taught that she can use clay to create beauty over many moons.

La Mexicana self, the Spanish-speaker self, has a lot of confidence and speaks in stronger voices. For instance, in “Latas,” she tells some man that he uses bodies like he opens cans and he’s still hungry. In "Fui.tu.nopal", some man is getting told-off good, he can leave because she is who she is. In Spanish.

There’s an interesting connection between the poem, “Fui. tu. nopal,” and the closing story. She says in Spanish that they told the fellow she doesn’t drink much water. It’s a metaphor there, for a woman’s needs and a man’s abilities to fulfill her. The final story offers the author’s explorations of dystopic fiction, the woman converted medically into a nopal so she doesn’t drink much water.

Unintentionally, Muñoz hits on a theme in “Sempervivum” that gives the story, and the collection, immediacy for plague-time reading beyond being such a readable enjoyable book. The character was converted when it looked like earth was running out of water and people had to adapt. The answer was turning people into xerophytes.

Beyond plague-time reading, the stories and poems of Coatlicue Girl offer a full helping of subjects contemporary readers do and talk about in their lives. The author’s reflections on single motherhood, sex and lovers, men and women partners, living with poverty, echo experiences shared by readers.

Because Coatlcue Girl arrives in collection format, readers or book groups can take a single story and delve into the resources Gris Muñoz calls upon to load her stories and poems with weight. There's a lot of "I really like this one" in the book.  "Speck (a performance poem)" is a highlight that will touch every reader's experience. 

Muñoz visualizes swirling dust motes floating in sunbeams, offering perspective of the persona as one of those dust motes settling, then a quantuum leap, someone is wiping dust off patent leather shoes. Then the Virgin Mary comes off the wall smelling of urine and frankincense and she goes off hand-in-hand with the persona finding liberation. 

FlowerSong Press is making a splash in publishing. The book itself has been manufactured to a high standard that will withstand multiple readings and hold-opens without coming apart at the seams. The cover has a plasticized coating that gives a luxurious feel to the thing itself. Here’s a link to the publisher’s ordering system to get copies for youself and friends of Gris Muñoz’ Coatlicue Girl. $16.00 plus shipping.

Note: Published as “FlowerSong Books” but now FlowerSong Press. Link. https://www.flowersongpress.com

UPDATE: You can order writer-direct at this link.