the real me...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Jimmy Santiago Baca

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.


The poetry of Jimmy Santiago Baca, filled with grit and fire, reflects the difficult life that the poet has forged. I do not doubt the world inside his works, nor do I doubt the sincerity.

This powerful piece shows the impact of a culture’s learning, and what is learned is a dreadful lesson. Fear is what fuels the energy of the poem, and when Baca writes of fear, I believe him.

A mask, quite the universal trope, begins the poem – “the smooth texture / Of my eyes” – illustrating the falsehood that human nature presents. The message of fear in the speaker – “the real me” – is a personal one, and is encountered physically and emotionally. One of the poem’s strengths is a binding syntax that is, by design, compacted and limiting. Note how even the syllabic form of the words is restrained – 68 syllables in 55 words. The tight language generates its own power, creating a force that’s apparent on the page and easily heard when the lines are read aloud.

Prison life in the biography of the poet falls away to even stouter prison walls that are various but absolutely present in every reader.

Sometimes terror is beautiful – as in this poem.



JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA (Reality Behind The Image) is a must read!


Sam of the ten thousand things said...

I read your blog entry with care -- and I have to say that it doesn't change my opinion of Baca's poem. To be honest, I'm not intersted in his background -- or the background of any poet for that matter. For me, biography gets in the way. I don't need it as a reader.

A poem stands or falls on its own -- on what's within the margins.

Ezra Pound was a terrible person in most aspects of his life -- but he was a tremendous poet and wrote many wonderful pieces.

Bob Dylan told the world he grew up in Gallup, New Mexico. That didn't happen. Not all. But he's still one of our best songwriters.

I appreciate your comment here, and I do appreciate your blog and what you're trying to do.

jenni said...

I love a good short poem. They are so difficult to pull off. This one does it. Nice commentary too.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

I agree with you about the short poem. Thanks for the read Jenni.

Maggie said...

Wonderful poem and poet. I also read the con man blog. I tried to report this site to Mr Baca and found out that the man is actually someone that was denied internship and this is how he has retaliated. They are pressing charges currently as the man has stalked others as well. They do report that he is providing more press for them and that is always welcome. I am very inspired by the poetry of Mr. Baca. He writes with passion that when I read it aloud or hear his rendition I am moved to feel. I just read his "Winter Poems along the Rio Grande" and found new interest in his writing. Thank you for including one of his poems here!