cover image House of Houses

House of Houses

Pat Mora. Beacon Press (MA), $24 (324pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-7200-4

Mora's poetic biography reads like fiction--it is a cacophony of sound, a prism of light, a lattice of memories that is sometimes magical. It is a family portrait spilling over the framework of a house, ""la casa de casas."" Although the address given is 704 Mesita in El Paso, Texas, this dream house also represents the many homes and many countries (Spain, Mexico, the U.S.) of the family's history. Mora, the Chicana author of several books of poetry including Agua Santa: Holy Water, sifts through family papers and converses with her ancestors, and a bilingual guacamaya bird. Gardens permeate the prose and even the structure: Flowers produce riots of color in adobe courtyards and the chapters are organized by a gardener's calendar. One grandmother tells the author that ""Gardens, like families, can be timeless--if they're tended, Patricia."" Sometimes memories make new histories, especially with so many voices contributing over prayers and candles--the shapeshifting, trickster father; Mama Cleta, a grandmother, earth mother, and keeper of the flowers; the one-armed aunt whose hand moves like butterflies in the kitchen; and the wonderful Aunt Lobo, who sweeps, loves children, but doesn't approve of men. At times, the web of family relationships seems too complex, as when the author lists strings of names bewildering to the reader, who has not yet been introduced. But, perhaps this merely reflects the messy business of life. This is a book the reader will need to sink into but the reward is a head full of indelible images, such as a scene at the turn of the century, in 1899, when the living, the dead and the not-yet-born raise their wineglasses to toast the future. (May) FYI: The book is due to be released on Cinco de Mayo.