Jimmy Santiago Baca is a Chicano-American poet and writer.
If you’re searching for famous poems ever that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of greatest Kazi Nazrul Islam poems, powerful James Joyce poems, and most known Brian Patten poems.
Famous Jimmy Santiago Baca Poems
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?
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.
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…
It is windy today. A wall of wind crashes against,
windows clunk against, iron frames
as wind swings past broken glass
and seethes, like a frightened cat
in empty spaces of the cellblock.
In the exercise yard
we sat huddled in our prison jackets,
on our haunches against the fence,
and the wind carried our words
over the fences,
while the vigilant guard on the tower
held his cap at the sudden gust.
I could see the main tower from where I sat,
and the wind in my face
gave me the feeling I could grasp
the tower like a cornstalk,
and snap it from its roots of rock.
The wind plays it like a flute,
this hollow shoot of rock.
The brim girded with barbwire
with a guard sitting there also,
listening intently to the sounds
as clouds cover the sun.
I thought of the day I was coming to prison,
in the back seat of a police car,
hands and ankles chained, the policeman pointed,
“See that big water tank? The big
silver one out there, sticking up?
That’s the prison.”
And here I am, I cannot believe it.
Sometimes it is such a dream, a dream,
where I stand up in the face of the wind,
like now, it blows at my jacket,
and my eyelids flick a little bit,
while I stare disbelieving. . . .
The third day of spring,
and four years later, I can tell you,
how a man can endure, how a man
can become so cruel, how he can die
or become so cold. I can tell you this,
I have seen it every day, every day,
and still I am strong enough to love you,
love myself and feel good;
even as the earth shakes and trembles,
and I have not a thing to my name,
I feel as if I have everything, everything.
I went to see
How the West Was Won
at the Sunshine Theater.
Five years old,
deep in a plush seat,
light turned off,
bright screen lit up
with MGM roaring lion-
in front of me
a drunk Indian rose,
the western violins
and hurled his uncapped bagged bottle
at the rocket roaring to the moon.
His dark angry body
convulsed with his obscene gestures
at the screen,
and then ushers escorted him
up the aisle,
and as he staggered past me,
I heard his grieving sobs.
Red wine streaked
blue sky and take-off smoke,
sizzled cowboys’ campfires,
dripped down barbwire,
slogged the brave, daring scouts
who galloped off to mesa buttes
to speak peace with Apaches,
and made the prairie
lush with wine streams.
When the movie
I squinted at the bright
sunny street outside,
looking for the main character.
Immigrants In Our Own Land –
We are born with dreams in our hearts,
looking for better days ahead.
At the gates we are given new papers,
our old clothes are taken
and we are given overalls like mechanics wear.
We are given shots and doctors ask questions.
Then we gather in another room
where counselors orient us to the new land
we will now live in. We take tests.
Some of us were craftsmen in the old world,
good with our hands and proud of our work.
Others were good with their heads.
They used common sense like scholars
use glasses and books to reach the world.
But most of us didn’t finish high school.
The old men who have lived here stare at us,
from deep disturbed eyes, sulking, retreated.
We pass them as they stand around idle,
leaning on shovels and rakes or against walls.
Our expectations are high: in the old world,
they talked about rehabilitation,
about being able to finish school,
and learning an extra good trade.
But right away we are sent to work as dishwashers,
to work in fields for three cents an hour.
The administration says this is temporary
So we go about our business, blacks with blacks,
poor whites with poor whites,
chicanos and indians by themselves.
The administration says this is right,
no mixing of cultures, let them stay apart,
like in the old neighborhoods we came from.
We came here to get away from false promises,
from dictators in our neighborhoods,
who wore blue suits and broke our doors down
when they wanted, arrested us when they felt like,
swinging clubs and shooting guns as they pleased.
But it’s no different here. It’s all concentrated.
The doctors don’t care, our bodies decay,
our minds deteriorate, we learn nothing of value.
Our lives don’t get better, we go down quick.
My cell is crisscrossed with laundry lines,
my T-shirts, boxer shorts, socks and pants are drying.
Just like it used to be in my neighborhood:
from all the tenements laundry hung window to window.
Across the way Joey is sticking his hands
through the bars to hand Felipé a cigarette,
men are hollering back and forth cell to cell,
saying their sinks don’t work,
or somebody downstairs hollers angrily
about a toilet overflowing,
or that the heaters don’t work.
I ask Coyote next door to shoot me over
a little more soap to finish my laundry.
I look down and see new immigrants coming in,
mattresses rolled up and on their shoulders,
new haircuts and brogan boots,
looking around, each with a dream in their heart,
thinking they’ll get a chance to change their lives.
But in the end, some will just sit around
talking about how good the old world was.
Some of the younger ones will become gangsters.
Some will die and others will go on living
without a soul, a future, or a reason to live.
Some will make it out of here with hate in their eyes,
but so very few make it out of here as human
as they came in, they leave wondering what good they are now
as they look at their hands so long away from their tools,
as they look at themselves, so long gone from their families,
so long gone from life itself, so many things have changed.
I could not disengage my world
from the rest of humanity.
Wind chill factor 11° below. All night
wind thrashes barechested trees
like a West Texas tent evangelist
hissing them on his knees,
sinnn . . . sinn . . . sinn . . .
All night wind preaches.
Old tool shed
behind my house
fist-cuffs itself to nail-loose tin,
horse pasture gates
clank their crimes,
while neighing black stallions of rain
stampede on the patio
fleeing gunshots of thunder . . . .
Miles south of here,
nightscopes pick up human heat
that green fuzz helicopter
A mother whispers,
“Sssshhhh mejito, nomás poco más allá.
Nomás poco más allá.”
Dunes of playing-dead people
jack rabbit under strobe lights
and cutting whack/blades,
Sssshhhh.” Child whimpers
and staggers in blinding dust
and gnashing wind.
Those not caught, scratch sand up
to sleep against underbellies
of roots and stones.
Eventually Juanito comes to my door,
sick from eating stucco chips—
his meals scratched off
walls of temporary shelters,
and Enrique, who guzzled water
at industrial pipes
pouring green foam out
at the El Paso/Juarez border,
and Maria steaming with fever,
face dark meteorite, whispers,
“Where I come from, Señor Baca,
a woman’s womb is a rock,
and children born from me,
drop like stones, to become dust
under death squad’s boots.”
“The came at midnight
and took my brothers. I have
never seen them since. Each judge’s tongue
is a bleeding stub of death, and each lawyer’s
finger a soft coffin nail.”
“You can trust no one.
Each crying person’s eye is a damp cellar
where thieves and murderers sleep.”
They have found refuge here
at Black Mesa.
The sun passes between our lives,
as between two trees,
one gray, one green,
but side by side.
Matanza To Welcome Spring
for Pat and Victorio
Spread eagle sheep legs wide,
wire hooves to shed beams,
and sink blade in neck wool,
’til the gray eyes drain of life
like cold pure water
from a tin pail.
(It kicked, choking on nasal blood,
liquid gasping coughs
spattered blood over me.)
Slit down belly, scalp rug-wool
skin away, pinch wool back
with blade to pink flesh, ssst ssst ssst
inch by inch, then I sling
whole carcass in bloody spray over fence.
(Close to its face, I swear
it gift-heaved a last breath
from its soft black nose
and warmed my nostril hairs
as I sniffed the dark smell
of its death.)
Mesquite in hole
boils water in the iron cauldron
on grill across cauldron.
Tonight I invite men and women
who take a night in life
and forge it into iron
in the fire of their vision.
Aragon has gone
to the river to play his drum.
I hear the deep pom pom pom.
Alicia squats, ruffles sheaf of poems,
while Alejandro tunes guitar.
Shadows dance round
stones that edge the fire.
(In Alejandro’s boot
a knife hilt glimmers.)
Their teeth gleam grease juice
(as do those of the children, who play
in the dark behind us).
There is fear
in the horse’s eye
(Hear the drum on the Río Grande.
Boom pom boom pom….)
moist alfalfa in the air,
bats flit above the flames.
I toss a gleaming bone to spirits
in the orchard,
and Gonzales yells,
with his old earthen voice,
“Play, hombre, �Canta, mujer! Sing!
Sing the way the old ones sang!”
Tonight life is
and tomorrow I will go
I leap into
into the burning
(I commit myself! One moment to the next
I am chasm jumper and silence is
a blue fire on my papery soul. I construct
out of nothing. I am air, am labyrinth,
place with no entry or exit,
am a smoking mirror.
Commit myself! Storms stroke my heart
and destroy its neat furrows.
My words are mule teams,
that loosen, pound, hurl, out and up,
and leave me standing in the open, naked,
with star flame roar, life opening. . . .
Hear the two hands
bleed along the river beating
deep sounds of thu-uba,
of magic, despair, joy,
emotions trance-weave through sound,
thumba, thumba, thumba.
thumba thumba thumba,
umba umba umba
thumba thumba thumba,
hear hearts mate with earth
spiral toward death
in its long thuuumbaa,
toward life again
in ba-ba ba-ba.
The sound is stain on purity,
is cry of broken thing,
drum does not wither beneath bed,
but rises heart
into newness around us,
all around us,
come follow Follow the drum,
thumba thumba thumba
thumba thumba thumba
It Would Be Neat If With The New Year
It would be neat if with the New Year
I could leave my loneliness behind with the old year.
My leathery loneliness an old pair of work boots
my dog vigorously head-shakes back and forth in its jaws,
chews on for hours every day in my front yard—
rain, sun, snow, or wind
in bare feet, pondering my poem,
I’d look out my window and see that dirty pair of boots in the yard.
But my happiness depends so much on wearing those boots.
At the end of my day
while I’m in a chair listening to a Mexican corrido
I stare at my boots appreciating:
all the wrong roads we’ve taken, all the drug and whiskey houses
we’ve visited, and as the Mexican singer wails his pain,
I smile at my boots, understanding every note in his voice,
and strangers, when they see my boots rocking back and forth on my
keeping beat to the song, see how
my boots are scuffed, tooth-marked, worn-soled.
I keep wearing them because they fit so good
and I need them, especially when I love so hard,
where I go up those boulder strewn trails,
where flowers crack rocks in their defiant love for the light.
What Is Broken Is What God Blesses
The lover’s footprint in the sand
the ten-year-old kid’s bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
and in those roots
do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
paraphrased from textbooks,
not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
and on the dust will again be the people’s broken
What is broken God blesses,
not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
but the shattered wall
that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
the human complaint is what God blesses,
our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
the irreverent disbeliever,
the addict’s arm seamed with needle marks
is a thread line of a blanket
frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
we work, we worry, we love
but always with compassion
reflecting our blessings—
in our brokenness
thrives life, thrives light, thrives
the essence of our strength,
each of us a warm fragment,
broken off from the greater
ornament of the unseen,
then rejoined as dust,
to all this is.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Snow’s been melting too soon—
passing the Río Grande every day, I note
water level is high,
all flowing down river.
when I need to irrigate pastures
and there is no water?
Farmers get edgy.
Start cursing neighbors under their breath
for using too much water.
only one alfalfa cutting
instead of three,
no feed for cows,
no money to buy feed . . .
and then like it happened a few years ago,
Mr. Gonzales goes out
and you hear rifle shots blister
cold morning air,
and you know his cattle
are falling in snow,
At Coronado Center, biggest shopping mall
in New Mexico, I hear two suntanned ladies
praising our wonderful weather. I give them
a glance, throw my gloves
on the counter for the cashier, and wonder what
a farmer’s wife would tell them.
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….
Yesterday, the sunshine made the air glow
pushing me like a sixteen-year-old
to toss my shirt off, and run along the river shore,
splashing in the water, wading out to the reeds,
my heart an ancient Yaki drum
and I believed,
more than believed,
the air beneath trees was female blue dancers
I approached, and there in the dry leaves, in the crisp twigs,
I turned softly as if dancing with a blue woman made of air,
in shrub-weed skirts.
I knew the dance that would please the Gods,
I knew the dance that would make the river water
smile glistening ever silvering,
I knew the dance steps that praised my ancestors.
Yeah, I wanted to write you a poem woman
for two days,
and today it was gray and snowy and overcast,
about how I startled the mallards from their shallow
refuge beneath the Russian olive trees
and how the male purposely
came close to me
diverting my attention to it
its female love went the other way
risking its life,
that’s what I saw,
the male fly before the hunter’s rifles, circle in sights of hunters
and take the shots, the roaring rifle blast
and circle beyond over the fields to meet its female companion.
That’s how I miss you, that’s how I wanted to write you a poem
since we left
you one way
me another way. I was the male
taking with me the hunters that would harm you
risking my heart so yours wouldn’t be hurt,
fronting myself as possible prey
so you could escape,
that kind of poem
I am writing you now.
Circling as hunters aim down on me
while you rise, rise, rise into the blue sky
and meet me over in the next fields.
I wanted to write you a poem for two days now
to tell you how happy I was,
seeing a white crane arc
between banks in the irrigation ditch
with furious efforts, its big wings flapping
like an awkward nine-year-old kid
much taller than the others his age
with size twelve sneakers
flapping down the basketball court.
But once the white crane
found its balance, its wings their grace, it glided more perfectly
than a ballet dancer’s leap across air,
all of its feathers ballet dancer’s toes,
all of its feathers delicate dancers
all of its feathers, in motion
made me believe in myself,
when it rose, swooped up,
the line of ascent up
made me think of the curve of your spine,
how I traced my finger down your spine
when you slept,
is the ascent of the crane
toward the sunshine,
and my hands my face my torso and chest and legs and hips
became air, a blue cold artic air
you glided up in your song of winter love.
The County Jail
Men late at night cook coffee in rusty cans,
just like in the hills, like in their childhoods,
without rules or guidance or authority, their fathers
dead or wild as gypsies,
their mothers going down for five dollars.
These are the men who surface at night,
The sons of faceless parents,
the sons of brutal days dripping blood,
the men whose faces emerge from shadows,
and they join in circles and squat on haunches,
share smokes, and talk of who knows who,
what towns they passed through;
while flames jump under the coffee can,
you see new faces and old ones,
the young eyes scared and the old eyes
tarnished like peeling boat hulls,
like wild creatures they meet,
with a sixth sense inside of them, to tell them
who’s real and who’s the game;
and their thoughts are hard as wisdom teeth,
biting into each new eye,
that shows itself around the fire.
The coffee is poured steaming hot into cups,
and the men slowly sip.
Shower stalls drip bleakly in the dark,
and the smell of dumb metal is inflamed
with the acrid silence, and once in a while,
a cab horn will sound from outside the windows,
and the man with only a cheek illuminated by the fire,
the rest of his face drenched in shadows,
will get up and leave the circle,
return to his bunk.
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.
There Are Black
There are black guards slamming cell gates
on black men,
And brown guards saying hello to brown men
with numbers on their backs,
And white guards laughing with white cons,
and red guards, few, say nothing
to red inmates as they walk by to chow and cells.
There you have it, the little antpile . . .
convicts marching in straight lines, guards flying
on badged wings, permits to sting, to glut themselves
at the cost of secluding themselves from their people . .
Turning off their minds like watertaps
wrapped in gunnysacks that insulate the pipes
carrying the pale weak water to their hearts.
It gets bad when you see these same guards
carrying buckets of blood out of cells,
see them puking at the smell, the people,
their own people slashing their wrists,
hanging themselves with belts from light outlets;
it gets bad to see them clean up the mess,
carry the blue cold body out under sheets,
and then retake their places in guard cages,
watching their people maul and mangle themselves,
And over this blood-rutted land,
the sun shines, the guards talk of horses and guns,
go to the store and buy new boots,
and the longer they work here the more powerful they become,
taking on the presence of some ancient mummy,
down in the dungeons of prison, a mummy
that will not listen, but has a strange power
in this dark world, to be so utterly disgusting in ignorance,
and yet so proudly command so many men. . . .
And the convicts themselves, at the mummy’s
feet, blood-splattered leather, at this one’s feet,
they become cobras sucking life out of their brothers,
they fight for rings and money and drugs,
in this pit of pain their teeth bare fangs,
to fight for what morsels they can. . . .
And the other convicts, guilty
of nothing but their born color, guilty of being innocent,
they slowly turn to dust in the nightly winds here,
flying in the wind back to their farms and cities.
From the gash in their hearts, sand flies up spraying
over houses and through trees,
look at the sand blow over this deserted place,
you are looking at them.