By Jimmy Santiago Baca b. 1952

for Tony

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
dash panels.
                  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,
                  “Ssshhh mejito.
                  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.”

And Juanito,
                  “They 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.”

And Enrique,
                  “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.

"Sanctuary" by Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Black Mesa Poems. Copyright © 1989 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.,

Source: Black Mesa Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1989)

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Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Social Commentaries, Activities, Travels & Journeys, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Imagery, Mixed

 Jimmy Santiago Baca


Born in 1952 in Santa Fe of Chicano and Apache descent, Jimmy Santiago Baca was abandoned by his parents and at 13 ran away from the orphanage where his grandmother had placed him. He was convicted on drug charges in 1973 and spent five years in prison. There he learned to read and began writing poetry. His semiautobiographical novel in verse, Martin and Meditations on the South Valley (1987), received the 1988 Before Columbus . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Activities, Travels & Journeys, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Imagery, Mixed

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