Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints

Cover of Aunt Carmen's Book of Practical Saints
Saint Mary Magdalen/Saint María Magdalena

"Her sins, which are many, are forgiven,"
Christ said, looking down at the dark rivers
of your hair, your head bowed, repentant.

For years, I thought of you as the great Sinner
with a capital S, a woman of the flesh
who made my tías frown, a paramour.

I stared at your image, at Christ's bare feet       enmeshed
in the swirls of your hair. You kneel, bow low,
bathe His feet with your tears, such sorrowfulness.

You rub the tangle of your hair although
polite society frowns that you dare dry
His feet with yourself, a beautiful tableau.

Opening your alabaster box, you apply
perfumes, sweet essences. You defy
sour mutters, kiss His feet, the righteous horrify.

Soft, your hands stroke Christ openly, not shy.
You are not tangled in the myth that flesh is evil
until men write your story. They simplify.

They say you flee to the desert, with a skull
and Cross, a wanton woman alone
in a cave, her banishment self-willed.

For years, I too thought you should atone
for smoldering, but who are we to judge you,
prim critics in our pompous monotone?

©Pat Mora

Church folk art
2017 20th anniversary

Aunt Carmen's Book of Practical Saints
Temporarily out of print though copies are available through various sources.
With 33 color folk art images from the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe
Download a hi-res jpeg of the book jacket.

Aunt Carmen, a fictional sacristan now eighty, has cleaned a small Northern New Mexico church for forty years. She is impatient with cerebral notions of faith, but she know her saints--their stories, their sorrows , and their joys. Through her they emerge: El Santo Niño de Atocha, the mischievous Holy Child; the doting father, San José; and the bold Santa María Magdalena, whom Aunt Carmen imagines walking into church "in heels and short skirts." And in Aunt Carmen's prayers to them, she finds the words to tell her own story.

You can also consult the following text for more information: Dick, Bruce. “Pat Mora,” A Poet’s Truth: Conversations with Latino/Latina Poets, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2003, pp. 92-105.

Highlighted Reviews
"Aunt Carmen's Book of Practical Saints has earned Mora a heavenly place in the pantheon of major poets."—Rafael Castillo, San Antonio Express-News

"Award-winning author Pat Mora delves into the rich history of the Northern New Mexico tradition of carving wooden saints to express one's individual devotion to Catholicism. But instead of working with wood, paints and tin, she relies on words, using Spanish and English lullabies and sonnets to express the private devotion of the narrator, Aunt Carmen...This is a tender and touching book that celebrates the secular and the divine."—Lynne Cline, The New Mexican

A Letter from Aunt Carmen

A Letter from Aunt Carmen, fall 2003
Dear Friends,
I hope you are enjoying the prayer-poems I collected for you in my regalito, my little gift, Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints. Aren’t the images of my saints beautiful? Looking through the pages is like looking at the faces in a family album, the faces I’ve talked to every morning for forty years as I’ve cleaned the church.

My husband says I told you too much about myself, that I should keep my problems to myself. Maybe I didn’t tell you enough. Every morning when I go dust my saints, I tell them my troubles. They listen silently.

What mother or grandmother, what woman, doesn’t have sighs and grumblings and need quiet friends who will listen?

When I wrote my poems, I was going through a hard time. “Try writing,” a teacher said, so I sat at the kitchen table with images of my santitos in front of me. Their faces helped me write. I tried different styles and rhymes. The writing distracted me and eased my sadness. I sat and thought about faith. Have you ever tried that?

I hope you and your family are well and that you are letting your spirit shine.

Aunt Carmen