"Born in New Mexico of Indio-Mexican descent, Jimmy Santiago Baca was raised first by his grandmother and later sent to an orphanage. A runaway at age 13, it was after Baca was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison that he began to turn his life around: he learned to read and write and unearthed a voracious passion for poetry."
Thus begins his 'official' biography as related on his website
. Simply put, it's just an incredible story. It is a testament to the power of poetry...as well as to the power of an individual.
His latest book is a novel, A Glass of Water
(Grove Press). The following poem is courtesy of the publisher, Sherman Asher Publishing, from the forthcoming took BREAKING BREAD WITH THE DARKNESS: THE ESAI POEMS
by Jimmy Santiago Baca.
Esai, celebrate your mixed-blood--
Ibericos, Phoenicians, Celts, Visigoths, Romans, Moors,
Olmecs, Mayans, Toltecs, Aztecs and Incas,
Seeds buried in your bone marrow
flourish a forest in your blood--
in the rainforest of your black hair
sacred quetzal birds caw,
and ancient origins of Indio/Arab/Jewish rivers
mix as they rush through you,
mimicking tears of one tribe, laughter of another,
in you a thousand lives celebrate and mourn,
your heart the size of a pomegranate seed,
to rise up in rioting blossoms and fiercely
bow before the dawn’s splendor:
On hands and knees
You scuttle around the house,
Growl like a jaguar,
your brown-hazel eyes peek around the kitchen archway,
flash behind the bedroom French doors,
you scamper on all fours like a young prong-deer
as I chase you, nonsense words giggle out from your throat
a flock of egrets
Exploding across the living room,
Swoop into the dormant fireplace, vanish up
the chimney toward the sky.
In the sunroom, sunlight pierces the shadows
quivering to reveal your jaguar jaws
clamped around a yellow rubber duck--
you raise your arms to the sky,
standing up against the couch
testing your stance, your balance shaky,
your small rose-leaf hands release from the couch
clap a thankfulness prayer,
your eyes dart at me
and I smile at you, now changed into a tawny fawn
alert ears twitching for danger
before you incline your sleek neck and sip water
from the river of life running between us.
Later in the morning,
In the bathtub, about to cry, choking breath back,
almost-tears transform into a cough then change to a whine
And ended up as laughter— .