At first, I thought I’d found another disappointing book, but this book has two parts and two voices. The first is choppy:
That baby in a box like a valentine
and I thinking it is wrong
us in our raw red ankles
And then beginning with the section “Other Countries,” we are confronted with a smoother, more confident voice that remains throughout the rest of the collection:
Odd for such a city poet like me
to find such comfort in the dark–
I who always feared it–and yet
I loved the way it wrapped me like a skin.
From “Letter to Ilona from the South of France”
From here on out, we’re hearing from a woman being honest about her passionate dabbling in men, treating them as experiences rather than answers to anything. Still, she is hurt and can hurt others. It’s a rare poem in the next 60 pages that does not involve a man, yet there is no sense of the speaker being a victim. She is an agent throughout, choosing her own mistakes. Sometimes it’s “Beautiful Man–France” and somtimes it’s “Sensuality Plunging Barefoot into Thorns” (two titles). I especially enjoyed her poem admiring a feature of Michelangelo’s David, “Ass.” The second and third stanzas:
Did I say derriere?
Derriere too dainty.
Buttocks much too bawdy.
Cheeks so childishly petite.
Buns, impudently funny.
Rear end smacking of collision.
Ah, misnomered beauty.
butt of jokes,
object of derision.
Pomegranate and apple
hath not such tempting
allure to me
as your hypnotic
The poem is full of play–the play on words, the play of sounds–and yet the impression is one of sincere admiration of the beauty of the male behind.
This book begins with a quote of Mary Cassatt, “I can live alone and I love to work,” before a prefatory poem. One of the pleasures of the book is going back and rereading that prefatory poem after finishing. We understand better how the poems in the second half are a woman wrestling with living alone and facing the need for sensuality and companionship, the struggle of finding a balance between maintaining independence and a desire for union. They are unashamed poems of the time between the ages twenty and twenty-nine, of a woman carving her own way in the world of relationships and exploring the wide world at the same time.
Sandra Cisneros has made her reputation on surprisingly few works. She has written only one other book of poetry since this one (Loose Woman in 1994). Library Journal praised it highly while noting that some poems are “occasionally a little too similar.” The same is true of the last poems in Wicked Ways. Still, the second half of the book was an enjoyable read overall.
Cisneros has received more acclaim for her fiction, particularly The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek.