cover image Girl with Death Mask

Girl with Death Mask

Jennifer Givhan. Indiana Univ., $10 ISBN 978-0-253-03279-9

Givhan (Protection Spell) crafts a clear-eyed narrative of Latina womanhood in this lovely collection ripe with longing, hope, and broken faith. Trauma operates like an inheritance; it’s expected for Givhan’s speaker as she matures out of girlhood. The opening poem, “Lifeline,” sets the tone, foreshadowing the running theme of painful sacrifice in the name of love: “For my slit skin you pricked/ your own called us blood buddies.” Givhan refuses to sugarcoat the horrors, tragedies, and pain such sacrifice entails. Givhan’s protagonist is a survivor of constant physical and emotional dangers; in “Billiards,” the speaker laments the realities of her environment: “I’m trying to remember// it’s not her fault or his We’re all/ pawns in this game of bullshit// Is this how it is where you live.” Though her path to womanhood is littered with loss, she endures. In the title poem, for example, artist Frida Kahlo symbolizes the challenges of girlhood when the speaker confesses, “when I was a girl & never imagined/ the funerals I’d/ become.” Love is never easy here, and Givhan’s speaker expresses this sentiment in relation to motherhood: “My daughter looks/ away uneasy// as if she understands/ how long// I’ve longed/ for redemption.” Givhan explores the dark sides of adolescence and womanhood with searing imagery and a healthy dose of empathy. (Mar.)