by Yvonne Su
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
Coatlicue Girl is a bilingual collection of poems and stories from Gris Muñoz. She takes us through the inner world of a storyteller living passionately at the border. Her poems speak to how wounds come to be and take a cue for healing from our ancestors.
In “Scars,” Muñoz passes on healing rituals; she says to “pry them open again and clean them with mint and lavender.” Short stories like “Cafecito” further develop the theme of healing, and the tone is unapologetic. In fact, each instance of wound-making strengthens Coatlicue Girl’s ability to heal from injuries, poor decisions, and harmful men.
The author recalls her youth, when she struggled to harness her powers. As she grew up, dreams of being a writer felt far away from her; she recalls that “none of [the books] would tell me how they got written.” She declares her freedom from humiliation, but boldness comes only after vulnerability. She confides in the reader that, “As a child, the trauma would seep out of [her], it always has.” This admission of surrender marks a turning point, after which she begins healing and moving towards rebirth. By writing her own narrative instead of following a prescribed one, the narrator pries herself from the cycle of generational abuse.
Muñoz describes an emotional journey with a combination of prose and verse in English and Spanish. After coming to terms with trauma, the text draws on Biblical themes; “Desert Utero” speaks to the narrator’s relationships with God and with her mother, tying together maternity, rebirth, and forgiveness. In recognizing how Mamá gave herself to her family and “corporate beasts,” including people who stole from her, Muñoz mourns by living her own life to the fullest extent. She forgives herself and the people who took life from her mother.
If Coatlicue Girl were a religious text, the closing story “Sempervivum” would be Revelations. Munoz ends the book in a spirit of defiance, telling the reader what Christianity means to her. It goes along with rewriting her own narrative instead of following beliefs that have been passed down through generations. She describes a vision in which some children’s bodies are modified to need less water due to water shortage at the time.
Like in Revelations, nightmares ensue. The narrator dreams of drowning in whirlpools and waking to a world that seemed strange—unlike half of the participants, who did not survive.When she visits a hematologist as an adult, he compares her condition to that of a succulent called Sempervivum, meaning live forever. But it wasn’t the promise of eternity that drew her; it was simply being alive and having the chance to make a new home.
As a whole, Coatlicue Girl is about coming of age: taking ancestral advice, making and accepting mistakes, reevaluating lovers, and giving birth to yourself. Through these trials, Muñoz learns that like a cactus, she already has what she needs to survive. She tells herself, “Just like the Sempervivum, you will get through any condition just fine.” Muñoz’s chapbook is a declaration of womanhood and being fully grounded in your roots.
Yvonne Su is a former elementary teacher. She also writes for Mochi Magazine. She lives in Santa Ana, California.