All by Jimmy Santiago Baca, 2008 Featured Poet
I feel foolish,
like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs
when I run by them.
Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,
no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They’ve never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
In their mindless
filled with nonsense,
they tell me how they
love the Great Spirit,
scold me not to be self-pitying,
to open my life
and make this day a bough on a tree
leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
and with day the river runs
carrying all that falls in it.
Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,
Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
leaning over the river eternity
and fuss about in its branches.
Listening to jazz now
Listening to jazz now, I’m happy
sun shining outside like it was my lifetime achievement award.
with my friend and her dog up in Durango, her emailing
me this morning
no coon hound ailing yowls
vibrant I love yous.
my smile a big Monarch butterfly
after having juiced up some carrots, garlic, seaweed,
I stroll the riverbank, lazy as a deep cello
in a basement bar–
smoke, cagney’d out patrons
caramel and chocolate women in black
shoulder strap satin dresses,
and red high heels.
El Gato’s uncle lures them with grain in a pail
and shoots the brown pig between the eyes,
shoos the red-snouted white and black brothers
from guzzling blood in the trough.
At ten Gato walks chop-block streets
with a rooster’s tail strut
razored for a fight – life
a broken fire hydrant
flooding streets with blood.
In opulent estates,
fountains gazelle and bridal-train gardens drain
abundantly over spear-tipped walls.
Grecian statues offer laureled wisdom
to butlered adults with paper-weight hearts,
who answer the burning and gunning of America,
by building more prisons.
Nobody cares what El Gato’ll find to eat or where he’ll sleep,
under street lights throwing dirt clods
at hornets’ nests, unafraid of being stung,
he vows to avenge his poverty,
to gash unmercifully with a bicycle chain
spineless attorneys taking advantage of his misery,
rob a construction executive in a limousine
sampling heroin off a hooker’s thigh,
mug preppy brokers with golden smiles
whose gutter glares condemn him,
and all the chumps
who never cracked a soup-line biscuit
or had a court gavel crush their life,
should know he plans violent schemes against you,
saints melt his pain red hot,
he’ll hammer sharp to take you down
to darkness where he lives
and impale your heads
on La Virgen De Guadelupe’s moon sickle.
Twelve years old. El Gato is no good,
dime bagging Peruvian flakes,
inhaling a glue-rag.
With all your police and prison sentences,
you can’t chase El Gato from the street
or stop him from selling drugs,
because in his square white paper
lives God — El Gato deals God — who gives reprieve
from earthly hell and makes him feel good,
gives him hope and self-esteem,
and transforms despair to a cocaine-heaven,
until he’s killed or OD’s
like other homeboys trashed
on a stack of county jail corpses,
who understood life was a sewer grate
their dignity poured down with discarded litter,
where crack creates light when all one has is darkness.
Crack is God
when hopeless days bury El Gato under
rock piles of despair,
blocking him from feeling any more,
breaking his heart into pieces of NOTHING.
El Gato is no good and preaches NOTHING door to door,
a strong kid full of NOTHING,
from NOTHING does he ask a blessing,
to NOTHING does he pray, hopes NOTHING
forgive his wrongs and NOTHING
helps when he take vengeance on us.
beneath a moon above the sport caster’s booth,
at the out doors boxing coliseum,
after crowds go home and the ring removed,
El Gato shadow boxes invisible opponents
and raises his hand as champion.
He joins homeboys against a rival gang,
skips bleachers over hand-rails out of breath,
and holds court in the field with bats, pipes, chains,
brass knuckles and guns,
in a game every kid has to hold a five-ace winning heart,
or die with a poker player’s bluffing hand –
death nothing but an eight-ball roll on the break.
El Gato’s life is a Babe Ruth pop-up,
sailing beyond the rival gang’s catch, hop scotching crime-chalked sidewalks, fleeing police over backyard fences
from guard dogs barking,
down scuffed alleys where clapping windows and shutting doors applaud him,
sliding under a stripped car homeplate, hearing the news Jo-Jo and Sparky got shot,
he x’s their names off building scorecard-walls for dead.
a brown fighting get down impromptu warrior,
lip-pursed ooohing fevered to defy,
clicking tap shoes on sidewalks,
chi chi chi cano, heel to toe, chin to chest,
chi chi chi cano,
T-shirt rolled to bare midriff, pomade hair back,
low-hugging hip khakis,
inked-cross on right hand,
bandanna’d, top button
tied on his Pendelton, lean and mean,
haunting us with his gangsta’ signs.
El Gato learned his history
around water-bucket talk,
listening to mule-tongued growers
mutter holy whys they barbwired lands off,
clacking hoe in grower’s dirt
on skulls and bones of his people
murdered and buried in chains.
In branding-hot noon
he cuts lettuce for bronc-buckled
soft palmed land owners
posing as frontiersmen,
their steer-horn cadillac radios
tuned to religious broadcast
blaring glory to their godliness,
as they loom over him,
“God hates you spic. God hates you!
You’re dirt, boy, dirt! Even dirt grows weeds,
but you, you’re dirt that don’t grow nothing but more dirt!”
Beat purple at nine,
butt bullet stings.
El Gato touched washcloth to welted bruises
on thighs, legs, back, winced under the shower nozzle, cursing life.
His heart the severed head of an outlaw
pickled in a jar of liquor and drugs
to numb the hurt.
Purging his shame for being born,
OD’d, was stabbed and shot,
wanting to believe he was bad.
It was better than falling into darkness
where nothing existed but more darkness.
He wanted to exist even as dirt, no good dirt.
At nineteen, trying to rebuild his life,
El Gato got the urge to get high and did –
put pistol to his head and played roulette,
his bloodshot drunkard’s eye seething rage
his guardian angel didn’t want him dead.
The dirt yard pleads for his daughter’s laughter,
her tricycle treads scribble,
You are always gone,
in whiskey and drugs,
never here to play or help me grow.
No heat, light or food.
His baby’s crying
chisels on the headstone of his bones
her need for a father,
wobbles to a stop
when he picks her from the crib,
inhales her milky aroma,
patting and kissing her,
walking her back and forth
in the cold living room,
warming her with his skin heat,
breathing warmth on her,
holding her to his chest,
humming a deep-chest hymn
learned from his grandmother –
” Bendito, bendito, bendito sea dios,
los angeles cantan y daban a dios…”
” Blessed, blessed blessed is the lord
the angels sing and give to the Lord…”
Her tiny hand flexes, a wing
unwrinkling from cocoon for flight,
fossilized in the stone of his arms.
El Gato is two men with one life –
he loves her, cares about her feelings,
wants to live at home, be a family man,
grow old with one woman.
But the warrior bares thorny teeth
at domesticity, slurs in disgust
at the dreamer’s naiveté,
wants to brawl unafraid of dying young.
Tonight his infant is him
and he is her. He sees himself
as he was born,
innocent and perfect, whole life ahead of him,
and sees she can become him,
no good. He hums her holding tight,
melting into one hug humming her
’til dawn thaws frost down window casements
into stucco cracks, stray hounds croon in ruts,
yeowling cold from jaws, tooth-scratching
stickers from paws, he walks and walks
his sleeping infant in his arms,
humming hurting-man blues.
Thinking how to give his family a better life,
he strolls the ditch-bank next morning,
surprised to see pebbles last night’s rain uncovered –blues and greens. He wants his tears to reveal
what is covered in him like that.
He throws a stone in the irrigation water,
where it gasps his child’s awe-struck mouth glistens
for breath, for a chance at life, glimmering ripples calling him to be a father.
El Gato realizes he must start today.
Where the stone hits is the center of the ripples,
where the stone hits is the center that causes action. Where
the stone hits is the beginning,
where he is now,
is the center. He is the stone, he held in his hand as a kid and threw to see how far it could go.
El Gato changed.
At twenty one
he prays his lightning self
carve from thrown away wood-pile days
cut deep to the knot-core of his heart,
giving him a limb-top buoyancy,
awakening, a realization that he was
a good man, a good human being,
healing emotional earthquakes in himself.
For the longest time,
I haven’t been able to cry.
Tears start to come while I’m watching a movie tears
starts to come,
swelling my whole body a tulip starting to open under moon,
then the petals of my eyelids
and something in me braces
and I don’t cry.
When we crashed into a telephone pole
my dad yelled me not to cry,
I was terrified, almost killed –
but don’t cry,
I couldn’t cry because men don’t cry.
When the dog bit me on the leg I couldn’t cry,
when Joey died I couldn’t cry –
how cool it would feel
to have a tear slide down the corner of my eye
on my cheek,
to the curve of my lip,
where I could taste it –
but I don’t cry.
Something blocks the paths, channels
under my skin.
Tear ducts are red cracked clay,
for thirty years,
since I was eight when I got a beating for crying.
My heart an open furnace oven door,
rage seething for tears to cool it down,
but coal hoveling men keep feeding it
don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.
I want to untie my hands like a tired boxer’s gloves
and lay them down on the table, gripped in their tight
clench of defense,
and I want to grow new hands
moistened by my tears.
I love the color blue
to touch my chapped cheeks
and whisper in tears
But I’ve always had to stop it up in me, hold my breath back,
keep my mouth shut tight
so as not to cry.
Man, I cry,
and it’s a lie I don’t.
I embrace my brother and pray shoulder to shoulder.
I kneel and kiss earth,
and I cry — if only I could cry.
Don’t translate my tears into thought,
I want to sob autumn tears on my window,
streaking the pane blurring the world.
I want to fill every hole in my heart with glimmering tear pools,
fill my kitchen sink with tears,
just thinking of me not crying all these years,
makes me want to cry,
but I been taught not to cry –
big people don’t cry, people say,
ain’t those alligator tears boy,
can’t fool me with those tears –
Fooling no one but myself not crying
step aside –
I’m going to cry,
until my shirt is drenched,
and my hands shimmery wet
running down my face on my arms,
my legs and breast,
and you have to look at me,
because I’m drowning your manly ways in my tears,
to get back my tears.
I’m crying until there isn’t a single tear left
for what we been through not crying,
how we fooled ourselves thinking men don’t cry.
I’m crying on the bus, in bed, at the dinner table, on the couch,
enough to float Noah’s boat,
let out the robin of my heart,
bringing me back my own single shoot of greening
life again –
and you go fuck yourself
dry eyed days,
here I come,
giving you a Chicano monsoon season,
here comes this Chicano cry baby,
flooding prison walls,
my childrens’ bedrooms,
splashing and tear slinging
tears up to my ankles,
planting rice and corn and beans
in fields glimmering with my tears,
and all you dry skinned nut-cracking ball whackers,
don’t want to get your killer bone-breaking boots wet,
because I’m bringing you rain.
Goodbyes were crying events –
Goodbye to grandma, to my brother,
friends, my neighborhood,
teachers and other boys,
and I never shed a tear,
though I felt them coming up in me.
I bit my teeth down hard to hold the tears back,
lowered my face and thought about something else.
I kept hearing voices in me,
telling me not to cry, don’t cry, don’t cry!
Boys don’t cry,
leave yourself open,
become liable to get an ax in your heart by some non-crying fool,
be a sissy,
puto, you be hurting
yourself if you cry.
I hurt when I didn’t cry,
all those times when I didn’t cry ashamed
to in front of people,
fearful others would think I’m not a man,
fearful I’d be made fun of,
whole groups of us heard tragic news
and no one cries,
because it ain’t right –
we need to weep –
get up in the middle of the night,
and cry, like a endurance’s hips and stomach convulse during
child birth, we need to give birth
to that terrible convulsion of tears,
weep for those we never wept for,
let the legs shake and your arms embrace you
in a junkie habit for tears,
weep for the poor in prison
taken from their families,
the fieldworker’s daughter
eaten by cancer from pesticides,
for all those homeless
who couldn’t meet mortgage payments,
those sleeping under bridges,
and the hopeless,
cry our differences into a lake,
where we can all cleanse our goodbyes and apathy,
papas cry for their children,
let children cry in my arms,
men cry in my arms,
endurance cry in my arms,
let us all cry,
after lovemaking and fighting,
make cry a prayer,
a language made of whimpers and sniffles and sobs,
cry out loud, louder, cry baby, cry! Cry! Cry!
I went down yesterday
to fix a leak in my tire. Off Bridge street
there’s a place 95 cents
smeary black paint on warped wood plank
between two bald tires.
I go in, an old Black man
with a Jackie Gleason hat greasy soft
with a mashed cigar stub in mouth
and another old Chicano man
working the other
pneumatic hissing tire changer. The walls are black with rubber
soot blown black dust everywhere
and rows of worn tires on gnawed board racks for sale,
air hoses snaking and looped over the floor.
I greet the two old men
“Yeah, how’s it going!”
They look up at me as if I just gave them a week to live.
“I got a tire needs a tube.”
Rudy, a young Chicano emerges from the black part of the room
pony tailed and plump
walks me out to my truck and looks at the tire.
“It’ll cost you five bucks to take off and change.”
He tells the old Chicano, who pulls the roller jack
with a long steel handle outside,
and I wait in the middle of the grunting oval tire
while the old guy goes out and returns with my tire.
He looks at me like a disgruntled Carny
handling the ferriswheel
for the millionth time
and I’m just another ache in the arm,
a spoiled kid.
I watch the two old men work the tire machines
step on the foot levers that send the bars around
flipping the tire from the rim
and I wonder what brought these two old men to work here
on this gray evening in February –
are they ex-cons?
Drunks or addicts?
He whips the tube out,” Rudy ” he yells
and I see a gaping hole in the tube,
“Can’t patch that,” Rudy says
Then in Spanish Slang says, “no podemos pachiarlo,”
“we got a pile of old tubes over there, we’ll do it for ten
At first I think he might be taking me
but I hedge away from that thought
and I watch the machines work
the spleesh of air
the final begrudging phoof! of rubber popped loose
then the holy clank of steel bar
and every gently the old Chicano man, instead of throwing the bar
on the floor,
takes the iron bar and wipes it clean of rubber bits
and slides it gently into his waist belt,
in such a way
I’ve only seen mother wipe their infant’s mouth.
And I wonder where they live these two old guys
I turn and watch MASH on a tv suspended from the ceiling
six ‘0 clock news comes on
Hunnington beach blackened with oil.
Rudy comes behind me and says,
“Fucking shame they do that to our shores.”
I suddenly realize how I love these working men
working in half dark with bald tires
like medieval hunchbacks in a dungeon.
They eat soup and scrape along in their lives –
how can they live I wonder on 95 cents a tire change
in today’s world?
I am pleased to be with them
and feel how barrio Chicanos love this too –
how some give up nice jobs
in foreign places
to live by friends working in these places
and out of these men revolutions have started.
The old Chicano is mumbling at me
how cheap I am
when he learns my four tires are bald
and spare flat,
shaking his head as he works the tube into the tirewell.
I notice his heels are chewed to the nails
his fingernails black
his face a weary room and board stairwell
of a downtown motel
given over to drunks and derelicts, his face hand worn
by drunks leaning their full weight on it
wooden steps grooved by hard soled men just out
of prison, a face condemned by life to live out more days
I bid goodbye to the Black man chomping his ancient cigar
the Chicano man with his head down
and I feel ashamed, somehow, that I cannot live
their lives a while for them.
Grateful they are here, I respect such men, who have stories
that will never be told, who bring back to me
my simple boyish days, when men
in oily pants and grubby hands talked in rough tones
and worked at simply work, getting three meals a day
on the table the hard way.
They live in an imperfect world,
unlike men with money who have places
to put their shame
these men have none,
other put their shame on planes or Las Vegas
these have no place
but to put their shame on their endurance
unlike men who put their shame
on new cars
so they never have to face their shame
these men in the tire shop
have become more human with shame.
And I thought of the time my brother betrayed
me leaving me at 14
when we vowed we’d always be together
he left to live with some rich folks
and I was taken to the Detention Center for kids
with no place to live –
I became a juvenile
filled with anger at my brother who left me alone.
These tire shop men made choices
never to leave their brothers,
in them I saw shame with no place to go
but in a man’s face, hands, work and silence.
And as I drove away, nearing my farm
I saw a water sprinkler shooting an arc of water
far over the fence and grass
it was intended to water —
the fountain of water hitting a weedy stickered spot
that grew the only single flower anywhere around
in the midst of rubble brush and stones
the water hit
and touched a dormant seed that blossomed all itself
into what it was
despite the surroundings.
Something made sense to me then
and I’m not quite sure what —
an unconditional love of being and living,
and taking what came one’s way
That night in my dream
I cried for my brother as he was leaving,
all the words I used against myself
rotten, no good, shitty, failure,
dissolved in my tears,
my tears poured out of me in my dream and I wept
for my brother and wept when I turned after he left
and I reached for my sister and she was having coffee
with a friend —
I wept in my dream because she was not available for me
when I needed her,
and all my tears flowed, and how I wept, my feeling my pain
all my tears became that arc of water
and I became the flower, by sheer accident in the middle
of nowhere, blossoming….
A Daily Joy to be Alive
No matter how serene things
may be in my life,
how well things are going,
my body and soul
are two cliff peaks
from which a dream of who I can be
falls, and I must learn
to fly again each day,
Death draws respect
and fear from the living.
no false starts. It is not
a referee with a pop-gun
at the startling
of a hundred yard dash.
I do not live to retrieve
or multiply what my father lost
I continually find myself in the ruins
of new beginnings,
uncoiling the rope of my life
to descend ever deeper into unknown abysses,
tying my heart into a knot
round a tree or boulder,
to insure I have something that will hold me,
that will not let me fall.
My heart has many thorn-studded slits of flame
springing from the red candle jars.
My dreams flicker and twist
on the altar of this earth,
light wrestling with darkness,
light radiating into darkness,
to widen my day blue,
and all that is wax melts
in the flame-
I can see treetops!
It was a time when they were afraid of him.
My father, a bare man, a gypsy, a horse
with broken knees no one would shoot.
Then again, he was like the orange tree,
and young women plucked from him sweet fruit.
To meet him, you must be in the right place,
even his sons and daughter, we wondered
where was papa now and what was he doing.
He held the mystique of travelers
that pass your backyard and disappear into the trees.
Then, when you follow, you find nothing,
not a stir, not a twig displaced from its bough.
And then he would appear one night.
Half covered in shadows and half in light,
his voice quiet, absorbing our unspoken thoughts.
When his hands lay on the table at breakfast,
they were hands that had not fixed our crumbling home,
hands that had not taken us into them
and the fingers did not gently rub along our lips.
They were hands of a gypsy that filled our home
with love and safety, for a moment;
with all the shambles of boards and empty stomachs,
they filled us because of the love in them.
Beyond the ordinary love, beyond the coordinated life,
beyond the sponging of broken hearts,
came the untimely word, the fallen smile, the quiet tear,
that made us grow up quick and romantic.
Papa gave us something: when we paused from work,
my sister fourteen years old working the cotton fields,
my brother and I running like deer,
we would pause, because we had a papa no one could catch,
who spoke when he spoke and bragged and drank,
he bragged about us: he did not day we were smart,
nor did he say we were strong and were going to be rich someday.
He said we were good. he held us up to the world for it to see,
three children that were good, who understood love in a quiet way,
who owned nothing but calloused hands and true freedom,
and that is how he made us: he offered us to the wind,
to the mountains, to the skies of autumn and spring.
He said, “Here are my children! Care for them!”
And he left again, going somewhere like a child
with a warrior´s heart, nothing could stop him.
My grandmother would look at him for a long time,
and then she would say nothing.
She chose to remain silent, praying each night,
guiding down like a root in the heart of earth,
clutching sunlight and rains to her ancient breast.
And I am the blossom of many nights.
A threefold blossom: my sister is as she is,
my brother is as he is, and I am as I am.
Through sacred ceremony of living, daily living,
arose three distinct hopes, three loves,
out of the long felt nights and days of yesterday.
As Life Was Five
behave yourself you always said to me.
I behaved myself
when others were warm in winter
and I stood out in the cold.
I behaved myself when others had full plates
and I stared at them hungrily,
never speaking out of turn,
existing in a shell of good white behavior
with my heart a wet-feathered
bird growing but never able to crack out of the shell.
Behaving like a good boy,
my behavior shattered
by outsiders who came
to my village one day
insulting my grandpa because he couldn’t speak
the invader’s sword
the oppressor’s language-
that hurled me into profound despair
that day Grandpa and I walked into the farm office
for a loan and this man didn’t give my grandpa
an application because he was stupid, he said,
because he was ignorant and inferior,
and that moment
cut me in two torturous pieces
screaming my grandpa was a lovely man
that this government farm office clerk was a rude beast-
and I saw my grandpa’s eyes go dark
with wound-hurts, regret, remorse
that his grandchild would witness
and the apricot tree in his soul
was cut down
using English language as an ax,
and he hung from that dead tree
like a noosed-up Mexican
racist vigilante strung up ten years earlier
for no other reason than that he was different,
than that they didn’t understand
his sacred soul, his loving heart,
his prayers and his songs,
Your words, Portate bien,
resonate in me,
and I obey in my integrity, my kindness, my courage,
as I am born again in the suffering of my people,
in our freedom, our beauty, our dual-faced,
dual-cultured, two-songed soul
me porto bien, Grandpa,
leafing my heart
like sweetly fragrant sage.
But the scene of my grandpa in that room,
what came out of his soul
and what soared from his veins,
tidal-waving in my heart,
helped make me into a poet
singing a song that endures and feeds
to make my fledgling heart
that makes my heavy fingers
strum a lover’s heart and
create happiness in her sadness,
that makes the very ground in the prairie
soil to plant and feed the vision of so many of us
who just want to dance and love and fly
that makes us loyal to our hearts
and true to our souls!
It’s the scene
that has never left me-
through all the sadness
the sweet momentary joys
that have blossomed in me,
broken me, shattered my innocence
never forgotten the room that day,
the way the light hazily filtered in the windows,
the strong dignified presence of my grandfather
in his sheepskin coat and field work boots,
the way the boards creaked under his work boots,
when my children were born at home
and my hands brought them into this world,
that scene was in my hands,
it echoed in my dreams, drummed in my blood,
cried in my silent heart,
was with me through hours of my life,
that man behind the counter,
his important government papers rattling in the breeze,
disdainful look on his face,
that scene, the door, the child I was,
my grandpa’s hand on the doorknob, his eyes on me like a voice
in the wind
forgiving and hurtful and loving,
to this moment-
his eyes following me
where I swirl in a maddened dance
to free it from my bones,
like a broken-winged sparrow yearning for spring
let the scene go, having healed it in my soul,
having nurtured it in my heart, I sing its flight, out, go,
fly sweet bird!
But the scene that dusty day
with the drought-baked clay in my pants cuffs,
the sheep starving for feed
and my grandfather’s hopes up
that the farm-aid man
would help us as he had other farmers-
that scene framed in my mind, ten years old
and having prayed at mass that morning,
begging God not to let our sheep die,
to perform a miracle for us
with a little help from the farm-aid man,
I knew entering that door,
seeing gringos come out smiling with signed
papers to buy feed,
that we too were going to survive the
the scene with its wooden floor,
my shoes scraping sand grains that had blown in,
the hot sun warming my face,
and me standing in a room later
after the farm-aid man turned us down
and I know our sheep were going to die,
knew Grandfather’s heart was going to die,
opened a wound in my heart
and in the wound the scene replays itself
a hundred times,
the grief, the hurt, the confusion
that day changed my life forever,
made me a man, made me understand
that because Grandfather couldn’t speak
his heart died that day,
and when I turned and walked out the door
onto Main Street again,
squinting my eyes at the whirling dust,
the world was never the same
because it was the first time
I had ever witnessed racism,
how it killed people’s dreams, and during all of it
my grandfather said, Portate bien, mijo,
behave yourself, my son, Portate bien.
An acquaintance at Los Alamos Labs
who engineers weapons
black x’d a mark where I live
on his office map.
He exchanged muddy boots
and patched jeans
for a white intern’s coat
and black polished shoes.
A month ago, after butchering a gouged bull,
we stood on a pasture hill,
and he wondered with pained features
where money would come from
to finish his shed, plan alfalfa,
and fix his tractor.
Now his fingers
yank horsetail grass
he crimps herringbone tail-seed
between teeth, and grits out words,
“Om gonna buy another tractor
next week. More land too.”
Silence between us is gray water
let down in a tin pail
in a deep, deep well,
milled in continental grindings
millions of years ago.
I throw my heart
into the well, and it falls
a shimmering pebble to the bottom.
Words are hard
to come by, “Would have lost everything
I’ve worked for, not takin’ the job.”
His words try to
from the deep well.
We walk on in silence,
Everybody to sleep the guard symbolizes
on his late night tour of the tombs.
When he leaves, after counting still bodies
wrapped in white sheets, when he goes,
the bodies slowly move, in solitary ritual,
counting lost days, mounting memories,
numbering like sand grains
the winds drag over high mountains
to their lonely deaths; like elephants
they go bury themselves
under dreamlike waterfalls,
in the silence.
I prefer red chile over my eggs
and potatoes for breakfast.
Red chile ristras decorate my door,
dry on my roof, and hang from eaves.
They lend open-air vegetable stands
historical grandeur, and gently swing
with an air of festive welcome.
I can hear them talking in the wind,
haggard, yellowing, crisp, rasping
tongues of old men, licking the breeze.
But grandmother loves green chile.
When I visit her,
she holds the green chile pepper
in her wrinkled hands.
Ah, voluptuous, masculine,
an air of authority and youth simmers
from its swan-neck stem, tapering to a flowery collar,
fermenting resinous spice.
A well-dressed gentleman at the door
my grandmother takes sensuously in her hand,
rubbing its firm glossed sides,
caressing the oily rubbery serpent,
with mouth -watering fulfillment,
fondling its curves with gentle fingers.
Its bearing magnificent and taut
as flanks of a tiger in mid-leap,
she thrusts her blade into
and cuts it open, with lust
on her hot mouth, sweating over the stove,
bandanna round her forehead,
mysterious passion on her face
as she serves me green chile con carne
between soft warm leaves of corn tortillas,
with beans and rice–her sacrifice
to here little prince.
I slurp form my plate
with last bit of tortilla, my mouth burns
and I hiss and drink a tall glass of cold water.
All over New Mexico, sunburned men and women
drive rickety trucks stuffed with gunny sacks
of green chile, from Belen, Beguita, Wllard, Estancia,
San Antonio y Socorro, from fields
to roadside stands, you see them roasting green chile
in screen-sided homemade barrels, and for a dollar a bag,
we relive this old, beautiful ritual again and again.
I Am Offering This Poem
I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
Keep it like a warm coat,
when winter comes to cover you,
or like a pair of thick socks
the cold cannot bite through,
I love you,
I have nothing else to give you,
so it is a pot full of yellow corn
to warm your belly in the winter,
it is a scarf for your head, to wear
over your hair, to tie up around your face,
I love you,
Keep it, treasure it as you would
if you were lost, needing direction,
in the wilderness life becomes when mature;
and in the corner of your drawer,
tucked away like a cabin or a hogan
in dense trees, come knocking,
and I will answer, give you directions,
and let you warm yourself by this fire,
rest by this fire, and make you feel safe,
I love you,
It’s all I have to give,
and it’s all anyone needs to live,
and to go on living inside,
when the world outside
no longer cares if you live or die;
I love you.
Like an Animal
Behind the smooth texture
Of my eyes, way inside me,
A part of me has died:
I move my bloody fingernails
Across it, hard as a blackboard,
Run my fingers along it,
The chalk white scars
That say I AM SCARED,
Scared of what might become
Of me, the real me,
Behind these prison walls.
Padilla unloads mangy herd of Mexican
cattle in the field.
Meaner, horns long and sharp
for bloody battle, lean from a diet
of prairie weed, looking more
like cattle did years ago
on the plains
than cattle now–
sluggish, pampered globs
stalled year round
for State Fair Judges to admire,
stall-salon dolls, hooves manicured
and polished, hide-hair blow-dried, lips
and lashes waxed.
I ride down the dirt road
on Sunshine (my bay mare)
and she smarts
away from their disdainful glare–
come in, try to lasso us,
try to comb our hair.
I admire my ancestors, llano vaqueros,
who flicked a home-made cigarette in dust,
spit in scuffed gloves, grabbed one
by the horns, wrestled it down,
branded it, with the same pleasure
they enjoyed in a bunk-house brawl.
I see Senora Sanchez
along the river.
pop the silver
as the gnarled
bronze face and
cool sea shells
and warm turquoise,
the turkey gobbling
and the red skirt
hanging on boughs
as she bathed….
She pulls her black sweater
snug around her, folded arms
across her stomach.
She who remembers
cannot say amen
but smiles to sunrise
as she walks through the grass,
grass that does not listen to
in black robes, blooms green
as she walks through the grass
and talks with them.
Is a question of strength,
of unshed tears,
of being trampled under,
and always, always,
remembering you are human.
Look deep to find the grains of hope and strength,
and sing, my brothers and sisters,
and sing. The sun will share
your birthdays with you behind bars,
the new spring grass
like fiery spears will count your years,
as you start into the next year;
endure my brothers, endure my sisters.
Standing and Breathing
The lizards are skittering along fencelines–blue-bellied, hearts in throat
pulsing weedy arteries,
and the plumed partridge, in pairs, each has a mate,
blend into the gray dead tumbleweeds
and bushy sages along the arroyo–
have you tasted sage? We call it the sacred blanket for grandmother, (peyote),
but its bitter to the tongue,
yet many a time when I was driving and couldn’t keep my eyes open,
I’d always have some on me and chew it, stick my head out the window,
caress my hair in the light drizzle as I prayed.
And prayer, thankfulness is what it’s all about.
I come up on the mesa and thank the black birds on the mesquites,
thank the nameless flowers sprouting red and white and blue in the heat,
thank the creator for all that’s come down
on these poor shoulders, wobbling my knees with such sadness
that an operation is needed to repair the splinter bone caps.
Strangers my ass– you might be a stranger to yourself,
but I’m not–
I been digging stone out of my heart such a long time,
biting each one to make sure I ain’t throwing away gold,
no need to wear a tie to impress a white boy
and fancily flirt with a white woman,
no need for that shit, I’ve got friends all colors,
demanding honesty which few can give
but a rare pocketful offer,
and I mix `em up in my blood, their words
the pebbles in a creek bed shimmering and glinting
with their own beginnings to be human beings,
`cuz so distant from their roots,
one becomes mean and ill-tempered and if you visit
English museums in London,
you’ll find their gods are men of commerce and banking,
what a fuck-up legacy to have, huh?
I’d rather be bunking with cigarette butts in a ho-n-pimp hotel
than point to the bank as my green-feathered tribal village.
Yeah, girl, what we need to do is sit down
leaving behind this heated pool and beautiful Mexican garden of mine,
leaving my dawn-early strolls as I water each sage and perennial,
each pinon tree, each evergreen that hollers to me
how sweetly life can be lived and nourished
and how there’s room for everyone–
even you and me, at the table,
even others of my peoples coming back to this Turtle Island
swindled from us, pillaged and stricken with mayhem
under the guise of Manifest Destiny–
they come nonetheless, crossing the miles of choppered-air
carrying beat up grandmothers, slashed with army bayonets,
childrens’ heads crushed by INS gestapo boots,
they come heeding a deeper call than yours and mine
, buried in Mother Earth,
concealed from those who would betray Her,
the poverty pimps, the wanna be great poets, the famished for fame,
the strutting and sliding, the smoking and singing,
they come in silence, humble, back to their roots,
to the Land Of Seven Cave, The Land of The Crane,
Our Motherland, Our roots,
and no one understands that was written in Mayan codices,
cannot be stopped,
smelling of earth drenched in blood,
stinking of sweat in rich growers’ fields,
reeking of pesticides, of hunger, of slavery, of being beaten brutally
and still desiring basic integrity by showing it to others,
color never mattered it never did
and still doesn’t,
I love the color black, man you outta see me in a black
sleek pants that snug up around my sweet ass,
how my brown limbs flow with swan-like grace on the air,
how my arms fit another sister’s and brother’s sad arms
for the rocking and cradling and loving,
color never mattered,
except to the colorless,
the lost tribe seeking their roots,
seeking their sacred colors,
their beads and feathers and songs,
now screaming in hatred death doom dungeon torturing and twisted
chemically induced self-destruction,
never trusting, seldom fair, often manipulative,
they dress in the fanciest suits to conceal their colorless anemia,
they cunningly score a win by cheating where they can,
they incessantly adopt and take what they don’t have respect for
except to turn a nickel into a dime,
so woman, you are full of bursting beauty,
despite the false reliance on plaques, knock-kneed innocence,
you breath and your breath by virtue of your wonderful soul
gives black-jeweled veils to every maiden under the moon,
gives every maui-warrior a gut-filled arrow-killing God-cry
of victory where he be, you be, I be,
all convoluted up in a fireball of love and courage and sublime spontaneity
hurling and soaring through the heavens above banks
and Major Daly’s
and the six ‘o clock news–
woman, being who we are and living as we live
ain’t no flip of the switch and whammo we got
Bay Watch lives–
who the fuck wants it–
our lives are never going to be resolved,
never going to find peace,
and why should they,
we are poets and warriors, racists and pacifist,
and to say we’re not racist is to deny we ever lived,
because this system and every institution in this country
teaches subtle, invisible can’t touch but it’s there racism, and all these white boys and white girls
off into brotherhood and sisterhood
can’t even begin to be my brother and sister
until they deal with their own racism,
the hot n cold, the sweet n bitter,
the fat and thin of it,
ain’t in Whitman or Emily’s poetry,
it ‘s in our lives NOW
and our reaching is a way of saying we’re tired of it,
gotta make something else happen,
gotta stop living and accepting the betrayals
and the nonsense that we can’t live in peace
and love `cuz
coming from a homeboy, and a million and million
there’s no winning,
not having the luxury of living in a quaint woodsy idyllic way
not having the money
nor the means to do so,
we find ourselves on the freeways speeding by others
who flip us off, who look at us and seethe with hatred
at me for having my ole `49 Pan head harley lowrider,
I’m coming up and passing them,
coming up and contributing my jewels to the land,
to the children,
coming up and offering better education,
art, dance, language,
and woman, THAT’S the REAL WORLD,
not the Taos Poetry Circus shit, not the crowds
gulping beer and clapping drunkenly,
not the fancy hotel soap and fragrant laundered clothing
the truth is if you put your finger in my
sweet bronze-brown flesh you’re gonna come up
with cups of the sweetest wine and most savory bits of heart-food
‘ll make yo mouth pucker as if you bit a juicy golden peach,
tired of them telling me
what’s good and what’s bad,
tired of the doubt about who we are,
tired of teachers teaching what they don’t practice,
tired of the starched manners and lies of politicians,
tired of measuring a woman’s worth or a man’s strength
by the curves on her body and his,
listen to Oldies But Goodies
humming them as I do on long prairie ride across the badlands,
going to my village
where richness is measured by your integrity and how you supported your family
and poverty by your lies and no good word,
and for a very brief time
I wanted to be like them white folks,
but that burned quicker than the white paper
around a puffed-in cigarette,
and I was left with ashes,
yet, still, the heart-coal burned in the dark
with all the ardor and vehement desire to be me,
and all it took was a stand, take a stand,
no matter where you are,
no matter what road or paved yellow brick dream,
no matter what path a goat’s or a queen’s carriage softened with strewn petals,
you can stand and be who you are,
just got to accept the grief,
the unbelievable anguish of being me, you, us,
and make songs outta of the blues girl,
and you, better n most,
can sing them so as to make even
Snakebelly rise out of his grave behind a Louisianan prison dog pound,
and burn the ear off them fucking hounds
the noses off their fucking faces,
slash their tongues,
and have that fat little squat warden chewing his cowboy hat brim in
cuz there ain’t no caging up the blues,
imprisoning the song in peoples’ hearts,
none of that shit,
and I what sing to the world
is get up off that bullshit
that I haven’t experienced the clubs and cages and bloody streets,
`cuz if not you than yours will,
a son, a daughter, no one escapes
another man’s hatred, another woman’s bigotry,
we all suffer it
down the road a bit, we meet what we most tried to hide from,
we encounter it
when answering the door,
the bill collector arrives and hand us the bill,
in one way or another,
and the time for explanations
is gone, vapid and sordid self-flattery because we handle language so well,
I don’t hear the cactus explaining his-self,
nor the mimosa tree chattering in the front yard why it is
the color it is,
nor the water as it streams down hill
telling me it has to do so,
just as we are and have been,
once we cut the shit we’ve been taught to believe
and get on our knees and hands and scrape up what we threw away
a long time ago,
put back together that old egg-shell angel and prop it
on our shoulder,
by the winds and magic of our hearts,
it’s start flapping wings and blessing us
and no, no, no,
until there ain’t no room for the I’m confused chants,
for the yeah what about me snivels,
for the fear that comes from talking out loud
in places and in front of people
that pay your salary,
fuck their noose around me neck
I chewed right through that piece of limp frayed rope,
I seen through their words and found a nest of fanged lies,
I touched their flesh and it was colder and chilled
than a ice-tray in the frig,
no room for nothing
except my beautiful sister, beautiful woman that you are,
to love yourself and sing your songs
that come from a river way below the stone and the fancy clod feet of the rich,
that black molten fire that is the tongue of all birthing origins,
that song that kept us alive,
that protected us against the predators,
full of fleas and smelling of shit song,
the one that our mothers a thousand years ago
hummed when they carried us
in a time when dinosaurs grumbled the blues….
The blackbird sits
On a bronchial limb
Squeal his guts
The Day Brushes Its Curtains Aside
to a dark stage.
I lie there awake in my prison bunk,
in the eye-catching silence
of prison night.
I study the moon out my grilled window.
I figure this and that,
not out, just figure, figuring more,
the inner I go, through illimitable tunnels,
roaring great, myself back back back.
I lie still, listening to water drops
clink and pap pap pap
in the shower stall next to my cell.
In that airy place we call the heart,
I move like a magician
in the colorful stage lights of my moods,
my bright dreams, and blue light
circles a tear on my cheek, and lips with her name.
From flowers in my hands
her face appears. In cards
she is the queen. These are tricks
and I am the magician.
Tomorrow morning I will crawl out of bed
knowing I cannot escape the chains
they’ve wrapped around me.
I will crawl out of bed tomorrow,
as though I had stepped out of a box
on stage. It was no illusion,
when the sword plunged into the box,
I smiled at the crowd,
as it went deeper and deeper into my heart.
To My Own Self
My hands the Hook thunder hangs its hat on,
My breast the Arroyo storms fill with water,
My brow the Horizon sunrise fills,
My heart the Dawn weaving blue threads of day,
My soul the Song of all life…
Is cut close, blades and bones,
And the stench of sewers is everywhere,
And guards count the dead
With the blink of an eyelid, then hurry home
To supper and love, what saves us
From going mad is to carry a vacant stare
And a quiet half-dead dream.
Who Understands Me But Me
They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?
I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love, my beauty,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?