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Singing at the Gates

Selected Poems

by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Hardcover, 251 pages, Pgw, List Price: $24 |


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Singing at the Gates
Selected Poems
Jimmy Santiago Baca

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NPR Summary

A collection of the award-winning writer's definitive poems spans more than four decades of his writing life and explores such themes as family, the bonds of friendship and the environment, in a volume that includes letters written during his work with prisoners in Chino State penitentiary and his meditations on the significance of freedom.

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Jimmy Santiago Baca, From Prison To Poetry

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Singing At The Gates

The Body

Feeling the bars,
Running my fingers over them,
Smeared with blood, bugs,
And bits of dried food.
A forest of bars . . .
The flesh must toughen to the cold,
Must callous to the rock,
I must learn to heal my own wounds,
Clack the rocks of my heart together
To bring fire,
And bleed the poisons from my body
In the fields where I sweat,
Walking quiet not to disturb
The great apes and tigers,
Walking carefully around traps
With sharp little bamboo shanks,
Camouflaged in socks and cloth shirts
Of the hunters and the hunted.

I Put On My Jacket

Wrapped up, I went out in winter light
climbing in volcanic rock on the west mesa
feeling softer and meaning than I've felt in years.
Amid arid scrub-brush and bone-
biting cold, I thought of Half-Moon Bay,
how the ocean unscrolls on shore
with indecipherable messages.

Only those hiding out
from tormentors and tyrants, those in jail,
gypsies and outlaws, could understand.
The ocean talks to me
as one prisoner taps a spoon to another
through four feet of concrete
isolation-cell wall.

Sometimes I Long For The Sweet Madness

The mystery that would spiral
my soul into a seashell
some seafaring explorer
would blow in his coming,
his arrival, his company,
his joy, his discovery.

I carry myself out in winter light
hoping music of any kind finds me,
leads me into its song,
just a note scored on paper
some child somewhere
in some faraway country
cries out at sunrise.

I Move Through

the day in a fog, realizing
unless my fingers touch something
I'm lost. Unless I pick up a scent of coffee
or my eye catches the honeysuckle tendril blossom
swaying softly by the outside gate, my life
rattles hollow and haltingly.
I'm used to
passionate engagement, not this boredom.
Even my dog has slowed; how he used to
wander, thrashing out fowl from fields,
barking robustly, blue flames spiraling
from his ears and short tail:
he's a bird dog in a rabbit world,
and his age is starting to show in his lazy,
closing eyelids, in the way he muses
whether he should rise when I come out
with his food. Could it be this suburb we live in?
We both count the days when we can move again
by the river, well up in the mountains,
away from all this order and structure,
to piss freely in the yard, to lay back on rocks
and stare at the stars, caressing stones
as if they were a lover's hair.

From Singing at the Gates by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Copyright 2014 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press.