by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Our muscles warped and scarr’d
Wrap around our skeletons
Like hot winds
That sweep the desert floor
In search of shade,
Sleeping each night
In the hollow of petrified
And from our mouths
Words of love would come
If we let them,
Like molten stones shrieking
From the belly of a volcano
But standing at these bars
We watched you leave
And only wondered…
You looked up at us with passion
As we stood at the bars.
A vacuum swelled at our hands
Went pale, our fingers cold
The gray pity of our lot
Made you turn away
But our spirits met that moment
Faraway in the land of Justice
And we whispered with our eyes,
”Come closer”
But you did not.
It’s been so long now
Since you left.
Did you tell them?
Hell is not a dream
And that you’ve been there?
Did you tell them

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1952 where he lived in a two-room shack with his alcoholic father, his mother, and his brother and sister. When he was two years old, Baca’s parents abandoned him and he and his siblings moved into their grandparent’s shack. Baca eventually moved into an orphanage and later, a detention center. Finally—when Baca was only 15 years old—he graduated to living on the streets. When Baca was 21, he was sentenced to five to ten years in a maximum-security prison in Arizona for dealing drugs. In prison, Baca taught himself how to read and write and developed a passion for writing poetry. Baca, who corresponded with several established poets while he was in prison, first published his poetry while he was still incarcerated. After he was released, he publishing his first major collection of poetry, Immigrants in Our Own Land, which is based on his prison experience. Since then Baca has released several other books of poetry, a collection of essays and stories, screenplays, and a memoir. Additionally, Baca conducts writing workshops at numerous schools and correctional facilities across the county. In 2003, Baca received his PhD in Literature from New Mexico University. (Annotated biography of Jimmy Santiago Baca courtesy of Youngstown State University.)

Editor’s Note: This post was by request, and it was requested that this poem be dedicated to all prisoners everywhere. If you have a request of your own please feel free to post it as a comment.

I love the idea of poetry as a means of redemption and as a means of finding your voice. I hope this post inspires people to find their own voices and their own freedom through poetry and art. “And from our mouths words of love would come, if we let them.”

Want to read more by and about Jimmy Santiago Baca?
Official Website
Youngstown State University

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
This entry was posted in Jimmy Santiago Baca, Saturday Poetry Series and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Kathleen Culhane says:

    Thank you for this. Baca’s a very political poet, and a hero to many of us. If it’s all right, could I add one more in this comment:

    The Heart Sharpens Its Machete

    The winter has been a mild one, snow
    melted away by noon
    no heavy gusts toppled elms or cracked cottonwoods—
    they passed by
    as if I were in a train watching
    them from the window, rushing through
    everyone around me speaking a foreign language,
    away from what is broken
    leaving landscapes of war,
    people starving,
    refugees waving for us to help them,
    homes they once loved in and slept and ate in
    bombed to rubble.
    The heart sharpens its blade,
    raises a thousand machetes
    in the streets, each
    cutting a path through the history of lies
    upheld by the law,
    by priests,
    by teachers,
    by TV commercials, banks, and loan officers.

    I tell you,
    it has not been a hard winter, the cold
    didn’t crack the boughs, didn’t split the trunks,
    there was more cold, more ice and frost
    between lovers than on the landscape,
    more mistrust, more suspicion,
    more prisoner chains drag this morning
    than ever before –
    by the river I hear the excruciating cries
    of Palestinian children,
    And I know this poem
    can’t irrigate democracy with its blood
    can’t heal the wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq
    this poem’s soft voice does not drown out patriotic
    it whispers from this corner of the bosque
    in New Mexico,
    whispers for peace.
    No, it was not a bad winter this year along the Rio Grande,
    but beyond the bosque
    severe freezing struck the souls of millions

  2. Norma Liliana says:

    That is exactly what poetry has been for me ….

  3. Angel Salva says:

    wow,nice poem 🙂

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