(Poets and Poetry in America)

A recurring theme in Pat Mora’s work is borders: the border between the United States and Mexico, where she grew up, and the borders between cultures and people. Like other Chicana writers such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, and Ana Castillo, Mora engages psychically, politically, and mythically with the concept of “border.” In Mora’s work, the border—as an image and as a symbol—holds great power but is more transmutable and conceptual than a concrete barrier. Language, families, and histories, after all, spill over borders without any recognition of statehood.

Mora’s voice emerges full of stories of her past and future, her connection with the natural and supernatural, and her intricate conceptions of women, family, and faith. In Agua Santa/Holy Water, her depiction of a woman who relishes experience, who laughs as she evokes the memories of pain, and who craves the perverse and the sensual, “the aching/ for fruit and hunger for grains of sweet salt,” is an apt description of Mora herself.

Another dominant theme in Mora’s work is the revision of the Mexican role for women as expressed in the concept of marianismo, which extols submissive, chaste, respectful behavior for women and states that the family’s honor depends on a woman’s virtue and strength of character. In the dramatic monologue “Coatlicue’s Rules: Advice from an Aztec Goddess,” Coatlicue offers rules such as “Beware of offers to make you famous” and “Protect your uterus” to women, mixing modern sensibilities and language with ancient mythology to revise and restore the goddess myth. The necessity for revisionist history within Aztec mythology, Christian doctrine, and chronicled history and tradition, particularly that of Chicano culture, informs much of her work.

Agua Santa/Holy Water

“Mangos y limones” is the central axis of Agua Santa/Holy Water, pulling together recurring themes and illustrating the inspiration behind this collection of fifty-two poems: the need to record stories of women, Chicanos, and all humanity. The poem begins, “The story is about swelling and slick slidings,” progressing through a series of musical, evocative passages that depict a woman eating salt-crusted lemons as she tells stories for her friend. As her tale continues, it encompasses “. . . daughters/ and what they know of the dark” and the knowledge of the womb, which “feels the unseen,” as well as sensual images, the “yellow scents [that] pucker her memory” and stem from the storyteller’s life in El Salvador. “Mangos y limones” ends with a depiction of the woman laughing as she speaks, “her mouth full of her own stories.”

Agua Santa/Holy Water contains six sections that follow a physical progression from...

(The entire section is 1153 words.)