To Be A Goddess

Women Without Shame: Poems
by Sandra Cisneros Knopf 2022 $27.00
by Alejandra Hernández
, PIOnline staff


What does it mean to be a god? To be an Aztec goddess, to bring that grace down to earth, to find it in people and places, the ones close to us, and the unreachable. In Woman Without Shame, her first collection in twenty-eight years, Sandra Cisneros embodies the creative, destructive Goddess Coatlicue, declaring “I believe I am God. / And you are too.”

In Mexico, the nopal is a sacred plant. It is on the flag. Rooted in Indigenous America, it is used both as sustenance and medicine. A woman, naked, holds the paddle of a prickly pear cactus in front of her face, two holes carved for eyes, creating a mask. One of the eyes has a white scab running down from it, a tear. The prickly pears at the curve of the head create a crown for this woman. Who is she?

She teases us with her naked body, lures us in with her mystery, keeps us at a distance with her mask. We can wonder about, even yearn for, getting into bed with this woman. Wait, we don’t know her. Cisneros likes it this way.

The collection opens with a poem, light in tone, funny, exciting – an act of foreplay:

It was easy to be half naked 
at a gay beach. Men
didn't bother to look.
I was training to be
a woman without shame.

Not a shameless woman, 
una sinvergüenza, but 
una sin vergüenza 
glorious in her skin.
I shed that summer 
not only bikini top but 
guilt-driven Eve and
self-immolating Fatima.

The heart of this collection is a woman coming into herself, comfortable in her aging body, comfortable with the choices she has made, both romantically and sexually. That’s not to say we don’t see her eyeing the prospective, wanting to lean into temptation, fantasizing about it – at times admitting a craving for an old lover. There is beauty in love and there is love in everything.

Mexico is full of it, Cisnero reminds us. Even in its helplessness, its collective grief, this pais herido arrives at the unexpected: small acts of love providing light. In the poem, “El Hombre,” a prayer is echoed following image after image: narcos, missing women, rape and murder, even the small, seemingly insignificant choices like stealing from a neighbor and the wounds it creates. A thread of powerlessness followed by prayer:

On the even of International Women's Day 
In a field on the road to Celaya
They find her body. 
The deaf-mute girl who
Walked her dog in Parque Juarez.

No one tried, blamed, named. 
The town knows:

It's her father's debts. 
This is how they pay
Un hombre who can't pay.

Mándanos luz. Send us all light.

Cisneros zooms into these characters and finds this light in their eyes, no matter who they may be, if only for a moment, as in “A Boy with a Machine Gun Waves to Me.”

Perhaps the most fascinating examination of womanhood in this collection is its reflection on solitude. This woman flirts and plays and loves, and then retreats, back to her solitude. Being alone is a choice over being someone’s wife or mother or simply lover. Cisnero considers this:

Do I miss 
Having a man 
Enter me?

Me in two?

Before. After. 
I do


Solitude appears to outweigh the climax – Cisnero argues that it, solitude, might even be the climax. But in solitude we can still need, still crave, intimacy with “the other,” with what isn’t us. Sometimes, what we crave is poetry.

I enter my 
Body with
A poem slick 
With my own 
Slide and grunt. 
A nice, tight fit.


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