Cover Image for Agua Negra
  • Series: Modern & Contemporary
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-916272-17-3
  • ISBN-10: 0-916272-17-6
  • Pages: 58
  • Size: 0.3125 x 6.0 x 8.8 in
  • Price: $9.95

Agua Negra

Leo Romero

The poems of Leo Romero’s Agua Negra are set in a small Northern New Mexico village whose name means “black water”—or “dangerous water.” The site of a miracle (the image of Christ appearing on a wall), Agua Negra’s people and customs, as Keith Wilson says in his introduction, are “as much 17th Century Spanish as they are anything resembling ‘American.’ ” The stories related in these poems have the ring of folktales and village gossip; after reading them one feels slowly returned to the present world, like the speaker in “End of the Columbus Day Weekend” driving home after his visit: “It began in the mountains/ coming down a winding/ canyon road, ten miles/ at a snail’s pace, elk hunters/ before me and behind me/ Everyone wanting to pass….” One leaves Romero’s poems only reluctantly. Published in 1981, Agua Negra was the first of Romero’s books from Ahsahta Press; his volume Going Home Away Indian appeared in 1990.


The full text of Leo Romero’s Agua Negra is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.



My grandmother walked

past the small spring

and almost to the river

She walked slowly

on her thin legs

Her body bent forward

by her humped back

which she had gained

with the years

and made her look

as if she were sinking

into the earth

or shrinking back

into a child


She walked fragilely

on slippered feet

and seldom left the house

except to pick estafiate

which she boiled

into a greenish tea

She would tell me the names

of herbs she had picked

when she was younger

But now all

that she could find

was estafiate


Each day she seemed

to grow weaker

It was summer

but she would sit

by the wood stove

dressed in kimono and slippers

She would keep the fire burning

claiming that she felt cold

And she was always

boiling some estafiate

which she claimed

was the “best medicine”


Copyright © 1981 by Leo Romero

Born in 1950 in Chacón, New Mexico, Leo Romero grew up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and a Wurlitzer Residency Fellowship. His books include Rita and Los Angeles (fiction), Going Home Away Indian (Ahsahta) and Celso. Poems from Agua Negra and Celso were adapted into a play called I Am Celso (The Group theater company, Seattle, Washington) and toured the country. Romero's poems have appeared in a number of anthologies in the United States and Europe.