cover image Agua Santa: Holy Water

Agua Santa: Holy Water

Pat Mora. Beacon Press (MA), $16 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-6829-8

The title poem's explicit treatment of a sister's rape sets a tone of guilt and moral responsibility that dominates Levin's first collection. The poem's ironic refrain, ""While my younger sister lies...,"" refers to her sister's lying prostrate, being raped, while the poet, unaware, takes in the nativity show at Radio City Music Hall; and at the same time hints at the perverse fact that a rape victim is expected to prove that she is telling the truth. As if much of her life and most of her habits of perception were contained in the arc of the expanding shock wave caused by that rape, Levin invests her free-verse poems with a pervasive sense of danger and sexual assault: ""the very concept of a beach in summer,/ the unfiltered light, the roughness of sand/ smears itself all over her body."" Often, however, her verse is syntactically flat, with her argument turning on a simple declaration, as in the concluding lines of ""The Bay of Fundy,"" which describe ""snow so cold/ should you bend down to touch/ it, your hand would burn."" Levin's poetry is earnest, at times to the point of didacticism, but she brings to her work a clear-eyed intelligence that, readers may hope, will in subsequent volumes find a greater variety of topics and forms to interest it. (May) FYI: The Christmas Show won the 1996 Barnard New Women Poets Prize, judged by Eaven Boland.