Citation: NATALIA TOLEDO, “A Hand in the Bush Makes Sweet Work in the Kitchen.” In The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems. Trans. from the Spanish and the Isthmus Zapotec by Clare Sullivan. Los Angeles: Phoneme Media, 2015. Pp. xi, 244. $16.00. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-939419-46-0.
Image credit: The designs of Natalia Toledo’s poems on amate paper that are featured as images in this post were designed by Mexico City Lit.
“You open your legs wide,” writes Natalia Toledo, “when you sit down in the hammock/so that the chocolate chili of your man/may enter your calabash.” In select poems like this one, “Chocolate Chili Pepper,” Toledo puts the erotic dimensions of her poetry on full display. She constructs intimate pieces that are short and sweet, and descend into palpable meaning like water falling over cliff sides. Throughout, she scatters poignant comparisons between food and sex like rocks on the falls, throwing them into the water’s path to create a confusing and entangled fall of sensuality and sustenance. The reader is left like many subjects of these poems, feeling both hungry and aroused. They crave food and they desire orgasm. Most importantly, they question the very idea of artificial boundaries between two of the most primal activities of human life. One is the ritual crafting of food that resurrects life in its subsequent consumption; the other is the intimate crafting of actual people that reproduces life through the cycle of sex, cooking in the womb, and then birth.
The following essay is a short piece that explores select themes from one section of Natalia Toledo’s Black Flower, a translated compilation of her poetry from 2015. The essay begins with a biographical section on Toledo which is intended to provide context for those who have not heard of her work. The essay will then discuss the interwoven themes of food, life, and sex in her section of poems, “A Hand in the Bush Makes Sweet Work in the Kitchen.” Meanwhile, it will draw upon language from the “Embodiments” track of the Performance Studies discipline. The discipline describes this track in one of its statements by writing that it “deals with questions of representation and documentation of bodies in performance that will encompass not only artist/practitioners but also those working in discursive fields such as literature and languages.” The language of the track also refers to the interaction of “bodies in space” and “bodies in motion.” In the sections of Black Flower relevant to this essay, we will explore how Toledo uses the vehicle of her native language and the themes of food, life, and sex to explore the body as a physical site of sensuality and sustenance, as well as the idea of the “body in motion” as it creates and sustains life.