'Woman Hollering Creek' flows with luminous language

Readings

September 25, 1991|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

"Woman Hollering Creek," by Sandra Cisneros, 165 pages, Random House, New York, N.Y., $18. THE WOMAN moving through the stories in "Woman Hollering Creek" like smoky incense, Sandra Cisneros, the author-creator, observes life with eyes as fresh and sharp as newly cut jalapeno peppers.

"My Lucy friend who smells like corn," she writes. It's the title of a story in this collection. Lucy who smells like corn has a cat-eye marble the color of "the yellow blood of butterflies."

Salvador, the boy who is no one's friend in the small epiphany called "Salvador Late or Early," has "eyes the color of caterpillar." He lives "where homes are the color of bad weather." He disappears after school with his string of brothers "like a memory of kites."

Churches "smell like the inside of an ear" in "Mericans." Holy water smells like tears.

The lover who says he has Mayan blood in "One Holy Night" speaks a strange language that "sounds sometimes like broken clay, and at other times like hollow sticks, or like the swish of old feathers crumbling into dust."

The woman rejected in "Never Marry a Mexican" asks "What do you think? Are you convinced I'm as crazy as a tulip, or a taxi?"

El Gran General Emiliano Zapata smells like lemongrass and smoke to the woman who loves him in the story "Eyes of Zapata."

This is luminous language this Chicana Sandra Cisneros writes. She writes of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and Mexicans and Mexican-Americans together, and they are not the same, as the woman painter in "Bien Pretty" learns from the roach exterminator and poet Flavio Munguia.

Flavio Munguia makes love in Spanish: "Ay! to make love in Spanish, in a manner as intricate and devout as la Alhambra. To have a lover sigh mi vida, mi preciosa, mi chiquitta, and whisper things in that language crooned to babies, that language murmured by grandmothers, those words that smelled like your house, flour tortillas and the inside of your daddy's hat . . ."

Cisneros is the daughter of a Mexican father and a Mexican-American mother, born in Chicago in 1954, sister to six brothers -- as are the characters in a couple of her stories. "She is nobody's mother and nobody's wife," reports a biographical note.

"Woman Hollering Creek" is her third book. She's a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and she's had a couple of National Endowment for the Arts grants. She's been around. Her poems in "My Wicked Wicked Ways" arise from such diverse places as Houston, Paris, Venice, Trieste, Sarajevo. Her last book of stories, "The House on Mango Street" won the Before Columbus American Book Award.

The stories in "Woman Hollering Creek" are all about women and girls and told from their point of view. They're arranged roughly from innocence to experience, from girlhood to womanhood.

The story "One Holy Night," about a young girl's first love, or rather sexual initiation, comes about in the middle. The girl wants "it to come undone like gold thread, like a tent full of birds."

Her lover calls himself Chaq Uxmal Paloquin, from an ancient line of Mayan kings. He turns out to be Chato Cruz, 37 years old, born on a street with no name in a town called Miseria. Chato means fat face.

The girl comes undone "behind Esparza & Sons Auto repair in a little room that used to be a closet . . . The truth is, it wasn't a big deal. It wasn't any deal at all . . . "

Cisneros likes to play with form and some of these stories are vaguely inventive. "Little Miracles, Kept Promises" is a modestly witty story written in the form of ex votos, those little notes of thanks or need or longing addressed by the faithful to their favorite saint or power or perhaps el Milagors Cristo Negro de Esquipulas.

"Woman Hollering Creek," by the way, is a translation of La Gritona, an arroyo one crosses on the way to San Antonio, which is where Cisneros lives now. The story is about a Mexican woman who leaves the husband who beats her, and it's a fine story.

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