I was again this anonymous person without a face or without a culture. Martin Luther King, Jr. BACA: True. You see, the thing that we've been taught as a culture is that it is much better to keep your silence and not try to overreach yourself because when a people have had everything taken from them--we had our land taken from us and our culture and our language, and there's not much else left to take except our pride--so in order to keep your pride you don't overreach yourself.
You should become a plumber and not a doctor, become an electrician and not a lawyer. Because if you don't make it, you're going to shame the family, and we can't live with that kind of shame. All we have is our pride, so what I'm basically asking the young Chicano people today is to please break the silence and you will see that your feelings are reaffirmed a million times throughout the day by other people who feel the same way.
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We've been taught that silence is best, because language was one of the primal enemies, and if we could just keep quiet, we would be able to protect ourselves. And so, the great call of the day in the square, the town-crier, was "Do not say anything. They wouldn't even answer the door. KEENE: Which is not so very different from other cultures like African-American culture, where a tradition of "speaking out," affirming one's name, identity, and humanity, was always considered very dangerous, yet people bravely did so.
BACA: But we've also been taught that to speak our feelings is something that verges on arrogance. And since our culture has a really strong strain of humility in it, very few of us stand up to speak when called upon. You worked on a film not too long ago and you describe the experience of returning to one jail where you'd been incarcerated, and of how, as you drove up, you were physically revolted by seeing one of the guards who used to inflict these unspeakable cruelties against you and the other convicts, but then you also describe how, as you were making this film, you went through whole series of feelings, and how at the end you really began to be able to deal with the men who were there, imprisoned.
What was the toll of making this movie? How had you worked through all those conflicts of having once been part of that society where you were now seen as completely different? You have to understand that the prison system alone in California has a budget greater than three-quarters of the nations on the face of earth. BACA: The budget of California prison systems alone is larger than that of three-quarters of the nations on the earth. Think about it. It's just one state out of fifty in the United States.
Also, on any given day, we have more people in prison than we have in the school systems in America, and it's mounting daily. The funny thing is that this year so many people went to prison, but what we have to understand as a nation is that we have trained millions upon millions upon millions of convicts and spit them out of the prison system. We're not changing or improving things! Out in society, we never want to think about this. We are going through the same thing that we went through with the nuclear plants; there were people traveling the country to tell of what might happen if a nuclear plant did malfunction.
But people did not want to listen. Unfortunately, what makes matters worse here is that there's nobody in this country walking around talking about what's happening when the prison systems malfunction. Yet we have all of this plutonium that we've stored in the sense that every man who comes out of prison is capable of tremendous chaos and carnage.
KEENE: But am I wrong in stating that if you criticize the prison system, the penal system, if you call for reforms, if you aim toward dealing with this complex of issues and talk seriously about rehabilitation, about improving every aspect of our educational system and about instilling esteem and self-knowledge in the minds of these young people that you'll be accused of being soft on crime, of being the stereotypical knee-jerk liberal?
How can you frame this question without appearing to be "soft on crime"? BACA: Well, I think it's an indignation to the sensibilities of a civilized human being to walk into a place like I walked into in California and see fifteen thousand kids-- and they're kids-- who are not in prison yet but on their way, fifteen thousand kids who've been given one foot of airspace around their bunks, and to top it off, the washing machines and the dryers for these fifteen thousand are made and manufactured by the same people who made and manufactured the death camps in Germany.
BACA: At that prison, you can look across the street and see Exxon, and you start to think about what happened in Alaska, about how we will never really be told about the tremendous loss of wildlife, the destruction of nature there. At that same prison, you can look across the other street and see this amusement park which has the biggest rollarcoaster in the world. Then you realize then and there that the rollercoaster is set for thrills; you see, we put our kids on it and they get a thrill out of life. Look either way and you realize that it's all about money.
Exxon will take the entire country if it has to. I could only say to those people who would ask for more prisons to be built that at no time in the history of this country has anyone ever been able to point to any study or circumstance which affirms that prisons have helped better society's problems or reduce crime. And we have never ever tried any other alternative for the very reason that there's so much money in the penal system, it's a business. BACA: And I would see the trucks from my cell window arrive with the air-conditioning unit, and the next day the air-conditioning unit was gone.
It was GONE, never to return. Neither the Federal Government nor the state nor civilians could hold those prison officials accountable for anything that they did and do. It's in the contracts! For instance, half of the food that was brought to prison--like, let's say, a truckload of chickens--would be sold on the black market!
And this happens everywhere!
Half of the guards were bringing in guns and selling them to the inmates, bringing in half of the drugs in prison, half-kilos of cocaine and heroine every week! Everybody knew who they were; this was just the way the system worked. You asked "how do you frame this idea," and systems work the same way: how do you frame a system where it works, where it's able to give you the kind of picture that you can live with, and yet it doesn't confront you, so what's wrong with it?
It becomes okay. You do come to see how power and money frame all questions and issues. Would you just talk about "Chicanismo" and what it might mean for younger people? BACA: Chicanismo For example, I'm writing this novel which takes place in an orphanage, and in one of the scenes this Chicano boy is pushing this Indian kid into the shower, so that he has to wash. The Indian kid refuses to wash, however. And when little Daniel, the Chicano boy, pushes him into the shower and realizes that there's blood on the boy's body, on his buttocks, he realizes that the Indian boy has been raped. BACA: Yes.
And what Daniel does is take the sponge and the soap and begin to wash the boy, because the boy refused to wash for some weeks. So Daniel begins to wash him, and there's a point in the description of the paragraph of these two characters where Daniel gets on his knees and begins to wash the boy's feet. BACA: What I'm saying through this symbol--for the Chicano and the Indian are both Indians--is that the little Chicano kid is washing the body, the feet of the Indian boy who has been raped, and I think as a society--I'm only speaking of the Chicano people--what we have to do now in order to get back to the idea of Chicanismo, of who we are as a people and what we can become, I think we first have to go through the grieving stages of what happened to us as a people; that in fact many, many members of our families have assimilated and are ashamed of where they come from.
This is true, too, of the black experience; there may be many black folks who are ashamed of their skin BACA: The Chicanos are ashamed of their black culture by which I mean that we wear this despised aspect of ourselves around our culture; and what I'm saying is, we must grieve first then go through an act of contrition, in the sense that Daniel washed the Indian boy's body. It's not good enough just to simply grieve. You have to act, because when you act on grief, grief becomes forgiveness of oneself. You then begin to stand up, and you become immensely stronger then to go on your journey to decide who and what you're going to be.
So one could say that through Chicanismo you begin to resolve the problematic dichotomy between what you received from Spain and Spanish culture, from Europe, and what you inherited from these Indian cultures that have been raped, suppressed, written out of the record. I have noticed throughout your essays and poems that you do look back to the Indio grandfather as a source of great strength.
BACA: I do. What's interesting about a people who have been colonized is that the dominant society does such an extraordinary job of taking away their rituals. Because once you can take away those rituals, you really have done ninety percent of the work. Keeping these rituals alive is where poetry then becomes very important. There's been this huge reaction in academia, especially in the English departments, this incredible backlash that says black literature, brown literature, and red literature is no good, any you must stay with our literature, now the white European literature. BACA: I was privy to these notions in tow outlandish cases, one in San Diego and one in Santa Fe, where two tenured professors had written letters saying that black culture and brown culture and red culture and Asian culture were nothing but backwash swamps better left alone.
And those professors who sent those letters were given tremendous amounts of money to go around the country on the lecturing circuit. So, you see, an awful lot of people supported these views. These two were held up as heroes. All of this is really extraordinary to me! KEENE: Such scenes become typical, especially with the current reaction against "political correctness. Many of their criticisms are based on the European, Eurocentric view that the works of a writer like Toni Morrison or of indigenous people deal heavily with heritage and family and roots and culture.
BACA: These critics say that writers such as Morrison, such as the indigenous writers, are simply invoking the maudlin sympathy of their not-very-smart readership. It's not really literature: this is what Mark Strand intimated when he was here at a talk, that women in the Southwest are not really writers. He talks about this hoopla of indigenous writers, of people of color reading poetry, and asks if this is supposed to make us think that they're poets!
It was a real bubblebath of humorism. The guy ended up saying that the only poets that America has ever had and will ever have are Ginsburg and Burroughs. He broke down the rest of American poetry with statements like, "the blacks, they make people cry but they're not poets," and so on. Now two weeks after I read this, I'm invited to the University of New Mexico to speak to a writing class.
Most of the white kids in the class are saying to me, "I can't published because I'm white. BACA: Then the professor herself tells me, "I change my last name to a black name, you know, so that I can get published. BACA: That's what she said. So I said, "Does it work? I'm astounded by what's going on in the English departments, what professors are promoting; on the one hand, that you would have to take people's names to get published, but on the other hand, you have to be white to be a good writer. Now the interesting thing about all of this as I was going to say was that, when we as poets and writers go deep into our past, number one, it's extraordinarily difficult to deal with the pain, because it all has to do with revelation, and when I dig deep into my past and go to my roots to try to uncover the metaphors that are going to sustain me spiritually and emotionally and that are going to put me in the center of the universe feeling comfortable, what's happening is that I have a history and a heritage and a culture that I'm reaping so much from, and I realize that in doing that there are some people who have NO heritage, who have no culture, other than the culture of money.
You know what I'm saying? BACA: This amazes me. It's so sad, in a way, because I don't ever want to disrespect the gift of poetry. When writing a novel, I know what God has given me is an enormous journey that is so enriching and I don't want to mock or criticize those who don't have it; but, I don't understand why, if someone can't buy something with money, then they must try to destroy it.
In other words, poetry in the Chicano world, in Chicanismo, is such an inherent part of one's living that it does not consist of extracting the sympathy of anyone. It's a part of one's living as much as a bull in a field and a rainbow in a sky and the woman in the morning who's singing. All are the different threads in the weaving of one's life, you know? KEENE: Your poems and essays often feature startling images--and "startling" at least to me--of the sort that in Neruda or Paz have been called "surreal" but that, as you have just said, are really not "surreal" but which actually arise from the life that you have lived and are living.
BACA: Yes! It comes out of the hands that people work with and the language that they speak with and the food that they eat. All of the poetry that Neruda wrote was not so much "surrealism" as it was "hyper realism. Neruda came from Chile, and people there have a tendency to show things, as the ocean shows things, because they share their land with the ocean.
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It's a hyper realism where "here" is the abundance of who we are. BACA: You know. And when you can live this and not have somebody exploit this abundance, then you feel trust, you trust enough to show people this; but when you show people things and they begin to exploit, then you're forced to hide it. It's funny how literature is a meandering stream that comes out of this large lake that's called society, which means that you cannot divorce literature from society. One of the most interesting examples of the recent trend to do just this involved Carolyn Forche's anthology Against Forgetting.
Norton had asked her to do an anthology of world poets. Well, she put it together, and some people were very, very disturbed that she had included as America's foremost poets many people of color, and many people who had done prison time. Forche has gone on to say that, in every single instance, every single poet that she picked from other countries had been in prison, and many of these poets were considered heroes, to some extent, by the people.
Except in America, where those hailed as great poets usually have never walked within a planet's distance of prison. KEENE: But she was not saying that one has to go to prison to be a great poet, nor championing imprisonment, was she? BACA: Not at all. She said that the condition of who constituted great poets in America was very disturbing for her, because ultimately the people that she did pick were people who had prison experiences, not because she went for that but because that was just part of the information that the poet carried in his bank.
KEENE: Well, the people who have told us what we should and should not read and have created these various curricula and great books programs have always sort of championed writers who have been men of means, of leisure, who really didn't even have to work, let alone serve any prison time. Perhaps the imprisoned were not writing years ago, but to dismiss their experience out of hand is perverse, because there has always been all this other experience out there, much of it up until recently unexplored.
Perhaps it was never even reaching the page; or if it was reaching the page, it was suppressed; or, as you say about Santa Fe, it was exploited so that the people who actually live it and write it receive no credit while other people are coming along and claiming these elements, these experiences as their own. BACA: Yeah, it's a funny thing, and people should know that there's no turning back now. Because, what little these writers from indigenous cultures have, there's no stopping their writing now; and anybody who proposes to try to stop black writing or proposes to try to stop Indian writing or Asian writing is really clinging to a very threadbare coat that's going to tear, you know?
BACA: It's just not going to happen. Suddenly you have a very unsettling kind of tragedy that's set into those people that believed the lie for so long, and it's my belief that poetry in its ultimate sense really tries to go for the pulsating vein of reality in the landscape or society. You can't write poetry unless it's the kind of poetry that sings and praises truth. I have really just two further questions I want to talk out with you.
The first is that, with the publication of Black Mesa Poems, and with Martin and Meditations on the South Valley, you have become a famous poet, so to speak. You are asked to read all over the country, and younger poets and writers recognize your name: you have what we might call " marquee value. Has there been any effect? BACA: Okay. Well, let me just say that we constantly find ourselves having to compromise ourselves for society. Our society says we'll give you this, but you have to do that.
You want a position in this department, you have to move here, you have to do this: we constantly have to give up things and that's okay. I can understand that give and take, I can understand that. On the other hand, as a poet I realized very, very early on that I would love to have been able to teach at a university BACA: I would love to have been able to have medical insurance and so forth; but I, as the poet that I am, I really had to stay home with my two children, write poetry here, and endure poverty in the cruelest sense of the word.
I really had to beg, borrow, and steal dimes to get enough gas to make it, to buy milk and so forth, for many years. But that was the playing field that I had chosen for myself, my terms. When I was cold and my baby was cold, we were cold together. And when my baby and I walked out in the snow in the morning, we did it together: I wasn't somewhere teaching, I wasn't cashing a check, I was there, and we had enough apples stored away and potatoes that we were going to eat supper.
The thing about poetry is that early on I came to it in prison in such a way that society was not going to accept me, so I then had to bring society to me through my poetry. I had to write the kind of poetry that was accessible and yet which would not compromise my experience, so that society would say, "Oh we understand what he's writing about, and we think that the poetry's okay. So once I was able to set that up, I went on this journey where I began to just write from my own voice, and the strange thing is that when I encountered offers along the way--like with the film Bound By Honor when I was immediately offered other films, for millions of dollars--I turned them all down to come back to my farm.
Basically, I was penniless. I had said in Bound By Honor what I wanted to say, and I had made enough money on that to do some of the projects that I wanted to do. But when I came back home, I was basically broke and I had to start over again. I'm currently finishing a novel and working on a book of poetry, but all of those things have been done on my terms, not out of pride or arrogance but mostly because I am so interested in the journey of self-discovery that I'm on.
Despite the demands I encounter, I still find myself pretty much out here on this farm alone, and I can devise my own journeys, pick the tools I need, and go after things other people wouldn't go after.
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So I guess what I'm trying to say is that what has occurred over these past few years hasn't changed me much. What it's really reaffirmed is that the work I was doing before is the work I should be doing and I'm doing it now. BACA: You know, it's a very hard way to go and it's not heroic in any sense of the word, but it is fulfilling.
You do get up in the morning and feel a real power sense of the tree and the yard and the grass growing and the sun coming up, and you feel yourself very much a part of that whole, tenuous existence in the world, and it's not structured around a paycheck or insurance or tenure or grades or a new car. It's really sustained by a sense of appreciation for one's breathing and getting up and saying, "Hi, how are you?
BACA: Yeah, the real, small pleasures in life. The idea of just seeing a man in prison who's condemned to die: I come out of the shower and it's 9 o'clock and I see him napping and I look at his face, and there's a look on this man's face, on the face of a man who's going to die, that I think is more important for me than to go to work in a prison system and get brownie points. I would much rather go back to the cell and write about what I saw on the man's face.
You know? BACA: And my life has always been sort of like that, about unendingly learning about all the mistakes I made and never being so stupid as to not try to learn something new from my children or from the earth or from friends. And then sort of translating all of that into a book. BACA: Well, I really don't think much about the poetry that I write or much about my writing except that if it feels really good to me, if it feels like I've hit on a jugular-- 'cause I'm around a lot of sheep and bulls and horses, and I know blood, I know hearts, I know a horse's eyes, I know a dog's tongue, I know those things very intimately, I know those things.
And when I feel a poem, I feel for that: I feel for the dog's tongue and the horse's eye or the bull's chest, you know, and if I feel, if I can feel it in the poem, then the poem's okay. KEENE: You're underscoring in different words the charge you gave to other poets, to "reject the killing safety of literary workshops and universities, and don't fear the jagged emotion. BACA: In a nutshell, the indication of a good poem, I think, is very emotional; every jagged emotion has a song all its own. You know the Navajos have a tradition: when a man or a woman go traveling, they come back home and they stand in the center of the teepee or the hogan where they live, and they repeat their names seven times.
And if the repetition of the name is clear, then they've come back with their name intact-- no one has stolen their name. No one has stolen their souls, so to speak. And in a society that thrives on stealing souls, I feel pretty good that I can stand up in my little place and repeat "Jimmy Santiago Baca" seven times and it's done very clearly and then I pray before my altar and I'm okay for the day.
I can start to work. I think both the people who already know your poetry and those who are unfamiliar with your work will really be able to appreciate what you have been saying here, because in talking about the specifics of your own life and art, you are extending feelings and experiences that are common to us all. BACA: Yeah. Poetry transcends all colors and cultures, and ultimately beats from the red heart. You show me someone without a red heart, and I'll show you someone who's not a human being.
BACA: I do believe the poet's job in the real sense of the word is to always be there where the emotional and psychic and spiritual earthquakes are happening, and to be strong enough to be able to sing in those big chasms. The poet's job is to be at the epicenter. BACA: I don't know if you've ever been at a place where there's been an earthquake, but let me just say it this way: I went with my two children to a place out by where there's a bird refuge, where thousands and millions of birds come.
And we were messing around, trying to cross this river, but they had this long fence strung across the river. It was something very strange that day because my son, my youngest one, immediately fell to the earth and began to play in the sand. My other son began to cross the river, clambering sideways across it, and I followed him, the river rushing beneath, and what was extraordinary about that time, that day was that I had another friend with me, and he began to sing songs; but we began to comment, all four of us, that the space seemed to be, seemed to have been cleared and sanctified in some strange way.
It was that our movements were slower, our words were more sincere, there seemed to have been the breath of great mother earth expelled from that particular point, and two days later, the epicenter of an earthquake was there, right there. BACA: I don't know what poets' jobs are except that we need to get to the epicenters before they happen, so we can participate in that power.
Not be the victims of it. I want us to participate in the power of an earthquake before the earthquake happens; I want us to be part of the process of that power coming up, and then, when those earthquakes occur, we understand them in a human sense. When things happen to human beings' lives, we can then write about them. They say that when it's a drought, you learn to live very dryly, you become drought. And when it's really, really rainy, then you become rain.
So that's how I think as a poet. Speaker: Our guest today is poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca. Poets often speaks of poetry as having saved their lives, but in Santiago Baca's case, the statement is not mere metaphor.
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At the age of 18, he was an illiterate, serving time in prison for drug possession, and in an interview with New Letters managing editor, Robert Stuart, Santiago Baca says it was his discovery of the possibilities of language that transformed what appeared to be a doomed life. The people who know and love poetry most, says Jimmy Santiago Baca, are those who like himself, desperately need it. JSB: You dive into the metaphor of language, and you hit your head on the bottom, and you taste your own blood, and you taste your own mortality in language.
You realize suddenly that you're here, just as the Aztecas would say, "like a flower. Writing is a form of mourning, in which you sing happy songs. One of the really absurd assumptions that runs rampant in this country is that the people who know about poetry, the people who truly understand poetry, the people who are the prophets of poetry are those in the academic levels are those who write it.
Well, I am the peddler of newspaper, and I will tell you what the real news is. That the people of academia who teach poetry know almost nothing about it. And, the people who write poetry, who are truly, truly apprentices of poetry, in the way that Blake was, are so blinded by its light, that they are participating in the process, that they don't have time to stand back and say, "Oh, well I couldn't tell you what the centimeter beats are on this. Their bodies are participating in it. Do you stop when you are making love to a woman and say, "let me tell you exactly what the metabolic process is that is happening right now.
No you don't.
He tells Robert Stuart that he thinks of himself as a Chicano, although his parents were of Indian and Mexican ancestry. JSB: Being a baby from those people that I come from, I was born and immediately after being born they said, "We cannot take care of you, we have no means, there is nothing here. Go live with your grandmother. Go, do something. I can give you some beans and some rice and some corn, and that kind of thing, but I can't do much for you. My first sense of structure in this particular reality, in this universe, came from everything else around me, and included in kind of realm of that value system was of course my grandmother singing her songs, and my uncles coming in from the mountains with wood.
The people were not apart from that universe, they were part of that universe. So, yes, and then from there, the government came and said "you cannot stay with your grandmother because you're not going to school, and you have to learn how to speak English. Speaker: This whole sense of basically no identity in this country shows up a lot in your poems. You have, I know, one particularly powerful poem about your father, about reading the death certificate after your father had died. He had been labeled as white on the death certificate.
JSB: That one was an interesting poem because that is one of the few poems that actually happened. That was a very interesting poem, because my father did die, he did die, and I think one of the reasons why he did die the way he did was because he was very bound like the earth, very red like titanium rock slab in New Mexico. And, everybody in his life said he was white. He had this terrible, terrible grief in him when anybody would see him.
A terrible grief. It was an animal grief, that means weep and grind his teeth. But, he's not white, he would tell me, "I'm not white mejito, no soy blanco. Mira, mi piel es cafecito como la tierra Madre Sagrada, ancina. I remember you Poppe, you were the boy who used to get the water out of the well and haul it up the mountain, and you had a song, and now you're dribbling saliva, you're so drunk, it's falling on your chest, and you're mumbling that you're not like them.
So, here's a poem called Jefe, todavia no saben. On the color of race on your death certificate, they have you down as "white. Now, they have you down as white. They had you down when you lived. Down, because you were too brown. Dead on arrival when you try to be white. You were brown as dungy whiskey bottles, brown as the adobe dirt. You shattered those bottles against death now. You are white. Under specify suicide or homicide, I scribbled out accident, and wrote in suicide, I scribbled out white and wrote in Chicano. I erased 'caused by aspiration of meat,' and wrote in 'trying to be white.
Speaker: This is New Letters on the Air. Jimmy Santiago Baca ran away from the orphanage when he was eleven years old, and began an odyssey of street life that culminated in his prison sentence. The poet is fascinated with other people's lives, and that in his experience, gangsters tend to be great lovers of poetry. JSB: When you see gangsters being jailed, and if they have something to say, it's always a quote from a poet. I mean, I happen to believe that poetry was the mother, in oral poetry of the people. The mothers held their little babies in their arms and sang the songs.
And, when these men decided to do what they had to do, and cross that line that few of us cross, and they decided to take someone else's life. It was through the force of poetry that this strange red, this strange red light that is worn on all sides evenly, just like a cradle with a spirit, that they said, they believe in the verse and the lyrics so much that they said, yes, you have committed an injustice, and boom, you either live or die. But, I believe that acts that are committed, that break laws, the great acts that assist the laws of the human spirit, whether they're legitimized in Washington or not, are acts that are done according to those mysterious laws of poetry.
JSB: I think it's what we call the "infant cry" in poetry. The cry that infants have that make a mother get out of bed in the middle of the night, you run to the baby. I think all of us have that instinct of mothering deep in us. And, when a poem cries out to us loud in its verse lines, there is something in us in the darkness that rises and comes to it. I was trying to find a metaphor for the creative spirit in poets. What makes us stay up and write, and what makes us so enormously happy in so much rumination? Why are we so happy? And, my son and I were at the Isleta Pueblo, and I was pushing him on the swings, and his little sneaker was scraping the dirt so that he could stop on the swing, and he uncovered the face of a frog, a dehydrated frog.
We carefully exhumed it and safely put it into my baseball cap and took it home, and added it to my alter of things that meant something to me. Some men bring back emmy awards, I bring back dehydrated frogs from the Pueblo. It's called Toward the Light. A few inches beneath ground surface, my son heeled up a frog.
It died in leap toward light. Cooked, brittle hooked hands scoop of dirt beneath this black flat belly.
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Nostril slits flared with that last heave toward the light to the faint warmth of spring. Back legs shoved at dense dirt, pushed, pushed up, up, until exhausted, o-o-o-old frog, let its legs and arms go limp, small toes fanned out, alas, back sigh, scoop. And, then it rested its broad gullet down gravely, severe mouth, and died in the grimaced leap at light, just an inch above ground.
I pick it up. Sand grains tick inside its hollow shell. Eyelids, dark scars. Blunted snub nose. Olmec King unearthed by my son's sneaker, I enthrone in my baseball cap, and bring home, set next to other desktop jewels. You make a thousand expressions of distaste and indifference. Like a bored Prince, unimpressed with our performance, you scream and we stagger out of bed, grumbling at the unmerciful rule of our emperor.
We become fortune tellers guessing what you desire. We become dwarfs at your service, jugglers of toy bears and rattlers, musicians continually winding up the music box, and after all of it, you simply shut your eyes and go to sleep. We have never loved anyone more then you, my child. Speaker: I had read, as well, I think it's well known that you evidently taught yourself to read and write while you were in prison.
You were roughly how old at that time? JSB: The state penitentiary? Oh, that prison, oh-oh, I remember prisons in my life, that one. I went into prison when I was 18, and that was a classic OK Corral standoff, shootout sort of thing. JSB: I escaped. I was the one that escaped, because I grew up in the desert, and this big shoot-out occurred in the desert, right? So, I knew the desert, it was night. They had helicopters there, and jeeps and sharp shooters from the FBI. With all of that, and they had us surrounded for hours, it was that old primal Geronimo listening to the weeds and the dust that got me past their roped off areas.
And, I ended up a thousand miles away a couple of days later.
- The Death of Randall Jarrell.
- The Venetian Light;
- Medical Histories of Union Generals.
But, there I am, in front of the judge who was saying "You miserable creature, we know you didn't shoot the FBI man, we know you didn't sell the drugs, but you wasted our time, so you're gonna get 50 years for that. And, if we wanted to, we could say you shot the FBI man, and because you're the only Mexican that we caught.
You're the only Chicano near the border. You're it. How could this lawyer do this. How could these people do this. What is it with these people. It was a classic stand-off that the guy said, "No problem, go to the kitchen for six months. Ho, lo and behold, I come back to the reclassification committee, and I say very proudly, 'O Sir, I have completed my duties in the kitchen, and I would love to have my first grammar book now, give me a schedule so I can go. You get your blank, blank out in the fields, and if I ever hear out of your blank, blank mouth again, you're gonna go straight down to security.
Something in me tore, something in me ripped, searingly through my spirit. As deeply as possible as a human being can be hurt and betrayed, it happened. It was something, something deep happened, and I stood there, and I looked at him, and I knew it was one of those momentous moments in time that changes our lives and, I looked at him, and I said to him, "I will never work for this prison system as long as I am here, ever. They put me in lock-up, and for the next four to five years, they did almost everything they could do to humiliate me.
They beat me, they Speaker interrupts: How, through all of that, were you able to learn to read and write through all of that? What I'm wondering is what was the process of actually learning in the prison? JSB: I think what happens, is that, well, there are practical things, like a man by the name of Harry from Phoenix, sending my first grammar book.
Because, he worked for the Good Samaritan Home, helping the homeless, and he randomly picked my name out of inmates who didn't have anybody to visit, and asked me what I needed. I wrote him, and he sent some paper and a grammar book, and so forth. 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 have nothing else to give you, so it is a potfull of yellow corn to warm your belly in winter.
It is a scarf for your head, to wear over your hair, to tie up around your face Keep it. Treasure this as you would if you were lost and needing direction. In the wilderness Life becomes when mature, and in the corner of your drawer, tucked away like a cabin or 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 It's all I have to give, and all anyone needs to live, and to go on living inside when the world outside no longer cares if you live or die. Speaker: So, more or less, you did it on your own.
Through the few books and the paper that you were able to get a hold of in prison. You developed your own sense of language. I mean, you had it obviously with you, but you began writing and reading in a kind of personal effort. JSB: I think what sustained me, what actually made me write, what made me pursue, there are many folds to this flower; but, I think that two or three of the most important ones were that I had a blinding reverence for life in its loving form, and I had a blinding terror of life in its violent form. And, those two extreme poles, I found myself literally scattered between those two poles of terror of life and love of life, that language I began to beckon and beg, I began to beg like a dog at the back door of words.
I would beg that these words to please give me sustenance in the same way we feed our body food, please give me something to live, and it was that cataclysmic faith, it was the Armageddon of love and faith, and all of that. The idea of fatality that life will end today, and I must have one truth, and it really literally could have been, because I had contracts on me to be killed because I refused to quit writing and so forth. Well, I begged that I live, or at least let me say one thing in life, let someone know I was alive, let someone know that Jimmy Santiago Baca came to earth.
Please let me leave something. JSB: What sustained me through the darkest periods, when I thought I might die, I was having nervous breakdowns, were the Mexican poets and the Spanish poets who unceasingly gave passion to the work, gave passion to the language. They didn't write poetry that said, "Well, I went down to the store And, it was at these weak moments when I felt myself fragmenting in my entire existence, falling away like sand through my fingers. Redmond celebrates a Written after the death of his mother, Donte Collins's Autopsy establishes the poet as one Written after the death of his mother, Donte Collins's Autopsy establishes the poet as one of the most important voices in the next generation of American poetry.
As the book unfolds, the reader journeys alongside the author through grief and Poetry is melodic expression of emotion, and that is exactly what Between the World and Emily have chosen to express themselves in literally Linda Washington is a story stalker. Employed as a court security officer, she travels on her Employed as a court security officer, she travels on her own time throughout Washington, DC to observe, report, and reflect on what she sees and thinks about.
Her ponderings are collected here in her first publication Have you ever had a moment? Sure you have. We've all experienced events in life We've all experienced events in life that preceded these moments of confusion, explosion, and even bliss. The poems presented in this anthology express feelings and thoughts accompanying these life moments.
D told Rolling Stone. On Pro Tools, you just press undo. But Jay-Z trusts me. The video was still on. Of course, nobody was. Where Jay and Jaz practiced their fast flows over relaxed, jazzy production in , their reunion took place on a spacey, futuristic track by Timbaland. Jay-Z had to actually stop The Black Album from being pressed to include this anthemic, last-minute reintroduction. Throughout, he answers to a journalist who had just sat through an album listening session, only to ask how he could pair a Che Guevara T-shirt with a chain.
Jay-Z and the Notorious B. This song sounds like the opening chapter in a partnership that never reached fruition. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter. Newswire Powered by.
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