The stories in Woman Hollering Creek often center around loss, but the nature of this loss varies greatly. Some characters pine over having lost control of a loved one due to infidelity. Others feel an acute loss of culture after having moved from Mexico to the United States. When faced with these feelings, many turn to religion with high expectations, hoping God or a saint will help them regain what they’ve lost or perhaps even obtain what they’ve never had. These kinds of desires appear with such frequency in these stories that it seems Cisneros believes longing—for happiness, for romance, for stability—is inherently, unavoidably human. And rather than condemning her characters’ bottomless desires, she allows prayers and requests and private wishes to proliferate throughout each story, subsequently underlining the fact that such yearnings are natural and are themselves part of being alive.
Lost love is common in Woman Hollering Creek, and in many cases it’s treated as ordinary. In “Los Boxers,” a man rants about the best way to do laundry before finally divulging, at the end of the story, that he owes all his knowledge to his dead wife. This man’s conflation of his wife’s death with an everyday activity like doing laundry illustrates the extent to which loss works its way into and through human life—after all, the poor narrator can’t even talk about washing his clothes without evoking his loss. While this sounds sad, he retains a healthy levelheadedness, ending his story by plainly stating the facts: “[…] now that she’s dead, well, that’s just how life is.” His acceptance of reality reminds readers that it’s possible for somebody to miss a loved one while also going about his day, living his life alongside the grief rather than in spite of it.
However, in some stories, Cisneros’ characters cannot cope with their grief. In “Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” for example, characters leave letters on religious altars, the majority of which are asking Jesus, God, or a Saint for intervention into their sorrow. Many of these letter-writers seem to have come to the altar in the wake of personal loss, whether financial, health-related, or love-related. In contrast to the widower’s sad but realistic acceptance of his wife’s death in “Los Boxers,” the characters in “Little Miracles, Kept Promises” are unwilling or unable to embrace the idea of loss as natural, instead praying for divine intervention to lessen their suffering. This struggle ultimately emphasizes how intensely some people long to be happy and how desperate they are to remedy any kind of loss they’ve experienced. Whether her characters rage against loss and suffering or accept that sadness is intertwined with ordinary life, Cisneros shows that there isn’t simply one way to deal with grief and loss, though the experience of suffering is common to all.
Loss, Longing, & Grief ThemeTracker
Loss, Longing, & Grief Quotes in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
Salvador inside that wrinkled shirt, inside the throat that must clear itself and apologize each time it speaks, inside that forty-pound body of a boy with its geography of scars, its history of hurt, limbs stuffed with feathers and rags, in what part of the eyes, in what part of the heart, in that cage of the chest where something throbs with both fists and knows only what Salvador knows, inside that body too small to contain the hundred balloons of happiness, the single guitar of grief, is a boy like any other disappearing out the door, beside the schoolyard gate, where he has told his brothers they must wait.
I’m not saying I’m not bad. I’m not saying I’m special. But I’m not like the Allport Street girls, who stand in doorways and go with men into alleys.
All I know is I didn’t want it like that. Not against the bricks or hunkering in somebody’s car. I wanted it come undone like gold thread, like a tent full of birds. The way it’s supposed to be, the way I knew it would be when I met Boy Baby.
But you must know, I was no girl back then. And Boy Baby was no boy. Chaq Uxmal Paloquín. Boy Baby was a man. When I asked him how old he was he said he didn’t know. The past and the future are the same thing. So he seemed boy and baby and man all at once, and the way he looked at me, how do I explain?
The truth is, it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t any deal at all. I put my bloody panties inside my T-shirt and ran home hugging myself. I thought about a lot of things on the way home. I thought about all the world and how suddenly I became a part of history and wondered if everyone on the street, the sewing machine lady and the panadería saleswoman and the woman with two kids sitting on the bus bench didn’t all know. Did I look any different? Could they tell? We were all the same somehow, laughing behind our hands, waiting the way all women wait, and when we find out, we wonder why the world and a million years made such a big deal over nothing.
I know I was supposed to feel ashamed, but I wasn’t ashamed. I wanted to stand on top of the highest building, the top-top floor, and yell, I know.
They want to tell each other what they want to tell themselves. But what is bumping like a helium balloon at the ceiling of the brain never finds its way out. It bubbles and rises, it gurgles in the throat, it rolls across the surface of the tongue, and erupts from the lips—a belch.
If they are lucky, there are tears at the end of the long night. At any given moment, the fists try to speak. They are dogs chasing their own tails before lying down to sleep, trying to find a way, a route, an out, and—finally—get some peace.
We drag these bodies around with us, these bodies that have nothing at all to do with you, with me, with who we really are, these bodies that give us pleasure or pain. Though I’ve learned how to abandon mine at will, it seems to me we never free ourselves completely until we love, when we lose ourselves inside each other. Then we see a little of what is called heaven. When we can be that close that we no longer are Inés and Emiliano, but something bigger than our lives. And we can forgive, finally.
You and I, we’ve never been much for talking, have we? Poor thing, you don’t know how to talk. Instead of talking with your lips, you put one leg around me when we sleep, to let me know it’s all right. And we fall asleep like that, with one arm or a leg or one of those long monkey feet of yours touching mine. Your foot inside the hollow of my foot.