Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"You Bring Out The Mexican In Me"

"You Bring Out The Mexican In Me"
by Sandra Cisneros

You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila l�ágrimas on Saturday all
through next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I'd let go the other loves for,
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
Maybe. Maybe.

For you.

You bring out the Dolores del Río in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and serpent in me.
The mariachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda, bien-cabrona in me.
The Pandora's curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.

You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocaust of desire in me.
The Mexico City '85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtacc�huatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustí�n Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.

Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the kitchen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,
like it or not, honey.

You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch-in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Acapulco cliff diver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The ¡Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in you light. Oh,

I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazolt�otl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The lust goddess without guilt.
The delicious debauchery. You bring out
the primordial exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporal and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.

Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Pi��n. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible,
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,
I invoke you.

Quiero ser tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Aarte. Amarrarte.
Love the way a Mexican woman loves. Let
me show you. Love the only way I know how.


This time around, I'm sharing a poem by one of my favourite writers. Cisneros is a Mexican-American feminist poet and author, and this is from her 1994 poetry collection, Loose Woman.

It's a steamy, sexy, sensuous love poem -- and you can almost hear a celebratory parade in the background (or maybe that's only because I'm listening to baila right now). You can hear Cisneros reading her poem here. I'm unable to open the link myself, but maybe you can.

The basic structure of "You Bring Out The Mexican In Me" is that it's a list poem, a long reel of place names on a map of the interior, if you will. From the grandiose -- tragedies, heroines, legends -- to the personal -- tequila tears and single womanhood -- a whole plethora of memories emerges. Her lover has teased all of this out of her. He has made it possible for her to reach these previously esoteric parts of herself. She is all things -- the pre-Columbian, the colonizer, the colonized, the immigrant, the second-generation Chicana. And with sass and with tenderness, this is her response. It's a grand, horns-blaring kind of poem, but under it all, even during its most audaciously in-your-face moments, is a pervasive sense of awe and quiet gratitude -- hers is the kind of lover who restores her soul, smoothes over the scarring of life between cultures, repairs the fractures of her past. He brings out the Mexican in her -- he brings out her deepest knowledge, and deepest secrets.

"You", she says. You. Thus it's intimate. Who is this lover? Who or what provokes Cisneros thus? Does s/he exist? Perhaps it doesn't matter -- she needs the Mexican in her, with all its roaring glory and its hideous grief.

I am immensely influenced by Cisneros' work because to me, she's one of the few writers I've encountered who are able to successfully juxtapose a supposedly exotic identity with the supposedly more profane language of her expression. She navigates this interface with such skill -- and more importantly by far -- such sincerity, which is why she can offer up the most succulent exoticism there is and never once seem contrived or pandering to Orientalist tastes. And I applaud Cisneros for avoiding the use of a glossary, that most tell-tale of "exotic" devices, as doing so speaks volumes about the nature of her craft. In the case of this poem, I personally also feel it's unnecessary, because the spirit of the work shines nonetheless.

And speaking of influences, I've read some "after" poems based on this one (e.g. "You Bring Out The Klang Valleyite In Me"). Here's a suggestion to anyone who wants to take it up: if you like this, why don't we write our own after poems modelled on its structure and its soul, and share them, perhaps at the Puisy-Poesy reading? A few examples I found on the web are here (by a performance poet called Bao Phi -- this one's amazing), here (scroll all the way down) and here (this one's by a 6th-grader!). On that note, I'd also like to open up the floor again on the subject of Puisi-Poesy readings (or, if that's too intimidating, gatherings)... what are your thoughts? Would be great to hear from non-contributors especially.

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Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Fresh, powerful and evocative... a performative poem that is so alive...so full of energy and vitality (also very womanly feminine, if I may add)

PS. Sharanya, you never fail to surprise with something absolutely new. I have so, so much more to read and learn. I'll comment more later, because there's so much to think and digest with this poem. Thx also for that last bit of challenge, though I seriously I doubt I can really write any verse for that matter (unless, off course, you want to teach :)

11:53 PM, August 08, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Yes, why not, a puisipoesy reading, or at least, a gathering, for once, to either read out to each other or to a public, or just to exchange ideas and interests. Sharanya, you have a place in mind for the gathering? I'm thinking somewhere within walking distance from a LRT station.

9:23 AM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

Cisneros reads the poem (although just the second verse) with such passion and expresssion that was stunning to listen to! I couldn't open the link myself until I found out that you need Real Player -- you can download it for free here.

A Mexican woman sounds scary though :P Rattle and dent me; defile me and raise hell; terrorizing people with a fork... yikes!

I would love to write a poem after this one... thanks for introducing this one, Sharanya!

p/s A PP gathering sounds good to me. Leon, wouldn't mind giving you a lift, if you need one. Your car still in the shop?

11:35 AM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

You know, the funny thing is that for the longest time, ever since I first read this poem in fact, I've wanted to write something like it, and didn't know how to do it without borrowing its structure and title, which I was hesitant to do -- somehow the "after" poem idea never occurred to me until yesterday, when I was looking for the text online!

I'm tremendously enjoying writing "You Bring Out The Sri Lankan In Me", and I can't wait to perform it somewhere! :)

I volunteer to organise/coordinate a reading, along with anyone else who wants to. There's no shortage of venues, especially if we tie up with others (Readings@Sek San's, Troubagangers, etc). What would YOU like to do? Where? When? How? Let's all throw down our ideas, and see what we come up with!

7:14 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

MM, thanks for the offer of a lift. Would take you up on it when the time comes. But, if we can get a venue near a LRT that'll be good.

Yes, Sharanya, a tie-up with other reading groups'll be great. I know you and Troubagangers often do your stuff at a place near the centre of KL. Or we could use the art gallery Bernice always uses for her group readings. Or Sharon, we could borrow a room at BC, and perhaps tie it in with the Reading Group promotion BC is having?

This could tie in with the reading promotion the country is having (still?).

9:08 AM, August 10, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

With a passing (scant) knowledge in feminist theory, I thought it might be interesting to stir some responses with my attempt at some kind of a feminist reading of the poem. [Warning: might be offensive or uncomfortable to some]

When reading the poem, one can easily feel its energy, its sensuality and its erotic power through the explosive desires released and unleashed . Unashamed of those desires (“lust goddess without guilt”, “delicious debauchery”), Cisneros celebrates the feminine and womanly self, reclaiming its own voice and subjectivity from merely being an object of male desire to becoming a desiring self. Moreover, the poem with its diffuse and fluid language exemplifies some of the characteristics some theorists have identified as being uniquely feminine, where the pleasure of the text far from being restrictively mono-centred has multiple sites of pleasures/desires.

Instead of being dominated, she engages and relates to her lover as an equal. In celebrating her lover’s effect over her, she also affirms her feminity, receiving even while giving, as well as possessing and even overwhelming him with her fiery and passion (“pre-Columbian death and destruction”, “rainforest disaster, nuclear threat”, “holocaust of desire”). At this point, she is on top, with the traditional male/masculine ‘prerogative’ of ‘war’ now reversed: “Aztec love of war”, “colonizer”. However, at the end of the poem, the last two lines “Love the way a Mexican woman loves. Let/ me show you. Love the only way I know how.” suggest a kind of mutuality between the poet and her lover, both of them in a deep, passionate and intimate embracing of each other.

6:52 PM, August 10, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

so sorry it's taken me so long to comment. love this, sharanya - the kind of poem i can imagine you writing! (ah but you did! i loved your 'you bring out the sri lankan' poem) i can't do a british version:

you bring out the fish and chips in me
the sodden walk along a windswept pier
the apple pie and lukewarm beer in me

simple listing poems are most effective, and i love the way this slips into spanish. it matters not a bit if we understand every word.

the imagery is dark, sensual and dangerous

as for your suggestion. we must of course do it. but i want dreamer idiot to be part of it. we could also have it at my house if you like with pot luck dinner.

7:34 PM, August 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This one's by an Indian,inspired by Cisnero as she herself says. She can be found here.She has done a wonderful one on U.P ,an Indian state.Its beautiful.:)


1:34 AM, December 30, 2008  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Thanks for sharing. :)

3:22 PM, December 31, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had always heard that she was speaking about Mexico, not a man.

10:20 AM, March 24, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NO actually she is using, metophors, irony, and mexican culture to describe women in general.

11:16 PM, July 31, 2012  

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