by Jimmy Santiago Baca
when I hear
an angry voice yell
TO YOUR OWN GODDAMN COUNTRY
a door slams outside
voice begs tor mercy
then a scream on the street
and boom! boom!
a car squeals off
a second voice now jagged and weak,
Did you hear?
Someone's shot! My wife Stacy
rushes from the bedroom to the kitchen,
draws her housecoat on
dashes into the street
and kneels under the streetlight
in the neighbor's driveway
where she lifts the Mexican's
bloody body onto her lap;
blood pools around him
she tugs his arm, he groans
stay awake, stay awake she orders
blood puddles out from his thighs
ladling out surfs
from blown oft kneecaps
that look like cantaloupe peelings
on the cutting board.
The shooting takes out the center of me,
leaves pit-molds of two shotgun cartridges
in the center of me smoldering with anger.
was on his way to work
his lunch sack
still clutched in his hand.
As I stare at him
who like all of us journeyed
hands, mouth and lips
breast, ears, toes and hips.
Like all of us
he was all questions-
Mother, what is that and that,
his first sensual exploration into
in his heart
asking what is that
you said a chili pepper
what is that in the bell tower
you said a pigeon
and in the sand-box
sand between fingers
you said soil
and what is that
feeling your lips on his cheek
you said a kiss
but to him it was hapPpiness
and later as man
when you ask him
what is that
he hugs you and says love.
I call 911
and ask the police to call the ambulance
but he answers,
He's another gangbanger, let the bitch die
my wife commands him to call
threatens to report him
and he says, the more they kill each other
the better off we are.
After they took the man away,
lawns and bare trees
study the crime scene
to understand what imbues
the dawn with sorrow
with the feeling that it's
harder to have hope-
life hits black ice and spins out sometimes,
I tell myself, but that doesn't mean we're lost,
doesn't mean the spinning will never end.
But it does no good,
filled with anger, as I am,
at those who believe in and practice violence,
I drive to the foothills to hike,
where my heart flares its nostrils
as pairs of hundred-year-old cedars and piñon trees
root in granite crevices and counsel me in patience.
I have an overwhelming need to cry
for that young man, tor me, for us
so many young Chicanos line the cemetery rows,
so many funeral gatherings daily! I'm sick of it!
How my wife
cradled the man's head in her lap
breathed on his face
it was going to be all right,
her face under the streetlight
smooth as the jade plant
in our sunroom,
wind chimes softly
declaring a belief in peace
The man in her arms,
I saw as a school child
cackling racket in shiny hallways
He grew wings
his first day at school,
his chair-desk back
anxious to let his words
and perch on the merry-go-round.
His heart's bell hinges grimaced
from so much hard happiness -ringing,
as he raced others
to hopscotch under the shed
or play kickball on the courts,
dangle on monkey bars
and yelp down dented slides.
When I return from my hike
the owners of the house
have already hosed the blood away
a contractor speaks with them
on their plan to install a wall
rimmed with knife blades
to keep intruders from climbing over.
School buses pick up kids
the hour makes its rounds like a jailer
and I feel we are all serving
a sentence for the crime of indifference.
Trump, you declare war
on immigrants and women and children,
all the while the same clichés and rhetoric
spout from your mouth-
What's the promise?
What's the course?
Who shares in the wealth?
Whose triumph and whose victory?
This day stands in infamy, stands crippled,
stands on blown-off legs,
stands blind and wounded, this day
has no tongue for ordinary Americans,
no ears or hands or jobs or homes,
this day draws the curtain on light,
locks the doors on the needy,
burns books, left our dreams on the barbwire
like a prisoner trying to escape his torturers,
and the biblical prayers,
condemnation of truth,
trashing of gospels
a day when angels fall from heaven,
a day when wounds open in unborn hearts,
a day when blessings from the lips of pastors
are sins upon us all,
a day of all-out launching of racism,
a day when Christ went into hiding
The long night begins.
Last updated March 04, 2023