Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Serpent Theme in "Borderlands, La Frontera"

Sueno con Serpientes

the doctor by the operating table said.
I passed between the two fangs,
the flickering tongue.
Having come through the mouth of the serpent,
I found myself suddenly in the dark,
sliding down a smooth wet surface
down down into an even darker darkness.
Having crossed the portal, the raised hinged mouth,
having entered the serpent's belly,
now there was no looking back, no going back.

Why do I cast no shadow?
Are there lights from all sides shining on me?
Ahead, ahead.
curled up inside the serpent's coils,
the damp breath of death on my face.
I knew at that instant: something must change
or I'd die.
Algo tenia que cambiar.

Serpents, known as coatl, were one of the most notable symbols in pre-Columbian America. Not only was the serpent’s mouth associated with womanhood, Anzaldua says: “[The Olmecs] considered it the most sacred place on earth, a place of refuge, the creative womb from which all things were born and to which all things returned” (56). After giving this brief history in the passage Sueno con serpientes she then writes a poem describing one of her near death experiences in which the serpent appears. “Dead/ the doctor by the operating table said/ I passed between the two fangs/ the flickering tongue” (56 1-2). It is clear from the one-word first line that Anzaldua is not writing this poem to dwell or lament about the death. As she passes between the two fangs and the flickering tongue she is in a very vulnerable position. The choice of the word “flickering” to describe the tongue subtly hints at the use of light and dark. Like the fading light of a small candle that is flickering, the further she goes down into the serpent the more she is overtaken by darkness.
Alongside the darkness imagery that is often associated with the serpent, there always seems to be some degree of fear or uncertainty.  Fear is brought on by the awareness or “sensing” of danger or a break in perception. Anzaldua calls the ability to perceive deeper realities through instantaneous “sensing” La facultad. “Those who are pushed out of the tribe for being different are likely to become more sensitized (when not brutalized into insensitivity). Those who do not feel psychologically or physically safe in the world are more apt to develop this sense. Those who are pounced on the most have it the strongest- the females, the homosexuals of all races, the darkskinned, the outcast, the persecuted, the marginalized, the foreign” (60). Anzaldua goes onto directly relate this to Chicanos and their struggles to assimilate with other cultures: “we only know that we are hurting, we suspect that there is something ‘wrong’ with us, something fundamentally ‘wrong’”(67). However, a key part of La facultad is to be able to detach one’s self from worldly obsessions in order to “see” and reach awareness. At first one must acknowledge the fears they have, but then they must try to understand it.

 “Every increment of consciousness, every step forward is travesia, a crossing. I am again an alien in new territory. And again, and again. But if I escape conscious awareness, escape ‘knowing’, I won’t be moving. Knowledge makes me more conscious. ‘Knowing’ is painful because after ‘it’ happens I can’t stay in the same place and be comfortable. I am no longer the same person I was before.” (70)  

Referring back to the poem in Sueno con serpientes, as the narrator is “curled up inside the serpent’s coils” and feels the “damp breath of death” on her face, the poem goes in a completely different direction. Abruptly at that moment she says, “I knew at that instant: something must change/ or I’d die/ Algo tenia que cambiar” (16-19). In this moment of enlightenment she has more consciousness. While she may not know what exactly it is that needs or has to change, her awareness of the need for change, and the consequence of death, greatly affect her self-identity.

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