The Sunday Poem: Jimmy Santiago Baca... 1-04-04

"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 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,
quenched both
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--
Tribal infant,
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— .

Views: 186

Comment by Margaret Randall on August 1, 2010 at 10:23am
Good poem, Jimmy. I especially like the ending. Good to see you here.
Comment by Barelas Babe on August 1, 2010 at 11:15am
I couldn't stop smiling as I read this. I really like the way this poem captures the mercurial changes in a day of a toddler - "scamper on all fours like a young prong deer", "your jaguar jaws clamped around a yellow rubber duck". Thank you!


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