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  • “Matriz sin tumba”: The Trash Goddess and the Healing Matrix of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Reclaimed Womb
  • George Hartley (bio)

One of Gloria Anzaldúa’s most important metaphors in Borderlands/La frontera is La herida abierta, the violent gash that marks the artificially imposed and fiercely policed border between Mexico and the United States. This open wound, originally sliced (rajada) by the act of marking the border, is “where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture” (25). Disgusting and crusting fluids blur the initial boundaries of this slice, creating a gory region of potential healing and potential infection. This wound marks the amorphous and indeterminate nature of the colonized subject, whose imperial definition simultaneously creates and complicates such borders. Those who mark the political-sexual border—whether Aztecs, Mexicans, or US patriarchal imperialists—are disgusted by this oozing abject indeterminacy; on the other hand, those who are marked by the border—especially women of color who are defined within the border region—embody the colonizer’s disgust and often internalize it as their own being (“the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary” [25]) through a process that Frantz Fanon refers to as “epidermalization” (11).

Anzaldúa refers to the healing process of confronting this internalized wound as the Coatlicue state. One privileged moment in this Coatlicue process is paying homage to Tlazolteotl, the goddess of lust and filth who figures as one of Coatlicue’s aspects or manifestations. This homage to Tlazolteotl is at the heart of a key poem in the second half of Borderlands, “Matriz sin tumba o ‘el baño de la basura ajena’” (158–60), or “Womb without Tomb or ‘The Bath of Other People’s Trash.’”1 Matriz, Spanish for womb, derives from the Latin matrix (from mater, mother), the spatial medium out of which things are born, produced, or reproduced. The matrix, then, is the site of creativity. In a patriarchal culture, the reproductive capabilities of the womb become tools for enslaving women. In a racist culture, the (pro)creative power of the woman of color’s womb must be policed and devalued. “Matriz sin tumba” concerns Anzaldúa’s struggle against the mainstream patriarchal Anglo-American conversion of the mestiza’s womb/matrix (in all its implications) into mere trash. Reconverting the [End Page 41] trashed womb into a creative power, the poem stages the production of the matrix out of which Anzaldúa can provide the healing antidote to the “emotional residue” of internal and internalized colonialism in the borderlands. Anzaldúa’s poetics serve as an embodied theoretical praxis, a poetic theory in the flesh that grows out of the experiential knowledge of the oppressed.2 In this matrix, writing and body implicate one another. The Coatlicue state clears a space for the writing that then creates a space for psychic and physical healing. Hence, this decolonizing poetic conversion or reappropriation marks Anzaldúa’s status as a healer—the curandera of conquest.

Engaging the Poem

“Matriz sin tumba” depicts the horror and pain of the psychic process Anzaldúa refers to as the Coatlicue state. The Coatlicue state—named after the Earth Mother fertility goddess of the Aztecs3—is an inner process responding to the trauma of what (in the spirit of the poem) I call trashing, viewed here as the alien trash of the dominant culture. To be trashed is to be violently cast outside the limits of the colonizer’s sense of self, scapegoated and spurned as all that is loathsome and sickening in contrast to what is pure and productive—or perhaps more fittingly, pure and reproductive.

Anzaldúa develops the complex nature of this Coatlicue state by dividing it into substates such as Tlazolteotl and Coyolxauhqui. Tlazolteotl—an alternative embodiment of Coatlicue—represents the condition of filth, promiscuity, or any breach and perversion of culturally sanctioned norms of sexuality. Coyolxauhqui, Coatlicue’s daughter, represents for Anzaldúa the trashed figure’s feeling of being torn apart by internalized shame and guilt from being spurned by society, embodying the contradictions of...


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