There Are Black

By Jimmy Santiago Baca b. 1952
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.

"There Are Black" by Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Immigrants in Our Own Land. Copyright © 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982,1990 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp., www.ndpublishing.com.

Source: Immigrants in Our Own Land (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1990)

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Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Crime & Punishment, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Imagery, Free Verse, Elegy

 Jimmy Santiago Baca

Biography

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 Crime & Punishment, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Imagery, Free Verse, Elegy

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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