A Chapbook by Jessica Helen Lopez
Create Space Indep. Publishing
38 pages, $10.95
You were stunned — perhaps even shocked and appalled — by the title, weren’t you? That is the intention of poet provocateur Jessica Helen Lopez. She seeks to reclaim the word “cunt” from its current position as a palabra non grata, the equivalent of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series (“he-who-must-not-be-named”). Instead, feminist-activist-slam poet Lopez wants to use the word to wield female power in all its guises.
In the ten poems contained in this chapbook, Lopez explores the many roles that make up a woman, as well as the thoughts and feelings that correspond with each. She explores the dualities in a woman’s life; her persona alternates between tender and tough, sentimental and sassy, spiritual and sexual. She is a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a lover, a poet, a provocateur. She is fully human.
Lopez knows the title of her chapbook is shocking to many. In the Foreword, she notes, “For those who recoil at the thought of the title of this humble chapbook, I invite you to sit and listen/read for a bit….I uncover for myself women…who fight against the oppression and pillage against women and of course who dive whole-heartedly into the vastness and mysterious complexity of unbridled sexuality. Yes, I love the cunt. Yes, I have one. And yes, I will continue to use the word because it is not disparaging but rather has been wrangled into submission for hundreds of years; only to be used against women and girls as a tool for abuse and means of brutal capitulation..”
In the title poem, Lopez stakes out her territory, literally and figuratively.
“the cunt is absolutely
not a bomb
it will not hand-grenade explode
your skull open like a cantaloupe
brain matter writhing against
the wall behind your head
it will not shred your hands
to lace if you happen to finger
the trigger every now and then.”
In a handful of lines, she faces head-on the almost superstitious wariness some have of what she describes as “the velvety walls of the cunt…the blue-black ocean of true origin.”
In the following lines you can hear the rhythms and verbal acrobatics of the slam poet onstage under a hot spotlight.
“the cunt is not a rude house guest
soiling the kitchen towels, sneaking
bacon scraps to your arthritic dog
the cunt is not a rapist,
nor a necromancer
because Webster says it is so
cunt is the most disparaging word
in the English language”
In short, she concludes,
“recall that the cunt
yields great power
which is to say
it will scare a great many
In “A Poem for My Breasts,” Lopez addresses her tempestuous and ever-evolving relationship with the other part of her body that allows a woman to be both mother and lover, nurturer and seductress.
“Understand that I hoped for you before I knew what you were…I courted the both of you. With the wistful mirror gazes of adolescence…The bemoaning vigilance that my body should open into symphony at last.”
Even now she acknowledges that her breasts still retain control over her. “I write this braless, without blouse and warmed by the dapple of white sun bleaching the skin. No, I lie to you, breasts. I sit twisted as always into this vise grip of black satin, underwire sneering. The padding, the lift, the lace and trellis of the pinched breasts. This embarrassingly expensive bra.”
“Thought Woman” finds Lopez mining a spiritual vein deep in Meso-American history and culture, exploring her personal creation story.
“[Thought Woman] stitched a burlap body, brown of course
and blew sand into it.
This to be the me of me.
My insides tierra and just a drop of moisture.
She took four long ropes of her hair.
Onyx like Moctezuma’s eyes and threaded the burlap
Thought Woman sang me into this world —
to let me cry, to bleed,
give babies to this land,
invoke dream stories,
to inscribe the world with
“Kissy Kissy — for the Young Feminist at the Playground” captures a moment in her childhood when, in the reflected light of a boy’s crush on her, young Jessica discovered a key part of her true self. It also features perhaps the best imagery and most mellifluous language in this collection.
“A skinny boy like a live wire and
skin the color of ten melted
caramels atop a warm television set…
He liked me sure enough — called me
his woman, my sixth-grade hips
but only a slight jump rope
tremor beneath my yellow picture day dress….
Bubba asked me to meet him
during second recess behind
the kissing tree
and I would have if only
just to see the amber flame of his eyes
lashes long and spider soft
curled upward like a girl.
He waited with his entourage of
kickballers and sixth-grade romantics.
It was the historic kiss that never was.
The cottonwood was afloat that day
seed like muted firefly or snow
or furry white boats that coasted and
caught the breeze to tickle my nose
I was perfecting the cherry bomb
from the top rung of the jungle gym…
I was not the kisser of boys.
Nobody’s hipless woman.
No make-believe wife
playing house behind the maple tree.”
Despite the many lines I have quoted here, there is much more to the beginning, middle and, especially, the end of “Kissy Kissy” for the reader to discover.
Lopez recalls one of her childhood birthday parties in “The Mother.” In reviewing old photographs, she ultimately realizes what is missing from the photographs — and from her childhood.
“You hosted one birthday party in honor
of me my whole life. I was four years young
and it was a California Easter Sunday.
The kind of Sunday people move
to the West Coast for…
I am ten years older than you then.
A whole decade and more of misdirected men
have come and gone for me, a daughter
of my own. Many birthdays since
that I care less to remember.
And it took me this long to notice
the one thing missing from those
Easter photos that long ago day.”
A two-word line ends the poem with a gut punch the reader is not expecting.
The concluding poem, “Diana the Huntress,” depicts a vigilante woman avenging the rapes and deaths of working women outside of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso.
“The newspapers jabbered like angry bees
and the AP wire was alive with the
electricity of my name
Diana the Huntress
and I fear no moon, Lady of the Wild Creatures
La Cazadora worshipped by the womanly
I only ever wanted soft righteousness not a countryside
riddled with the husks of dead raped women
They were like wild mustangs, the dark-eyed girls, cuckolded
shepherded to the slaughter; knees like young colts,
necks bared and naked breasts an offering to the swine…
The ten ticking bombs in this chapbook demonstrate why Jessica Helen Lopez was recently named one of the “30 Poets in Their 30s to Watch” by Muzzle magazine and why she holds the title of 2012 and 2014 Women of the World (WOW) City of ABQ Champion.
Lopez is a member of the Macondo Foundation, an association of socially engaged writers founded by Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street, Caramelo) to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor community. She is the founder of La Palabra – The Word is a Woman collective and is a TED Talk speaker.
Her first collection of poetry, Always Messing With Them Boys, was published by West End Press in 2011.
Reblogged this on Swimming with Elephants Publications and commented:
Sharing a review of Jessica Helen Lopez’s Chapbook. I thought this one was especially well written.