Posted by: Tina M | 29 January , 2011

A Place to Stand

<a href="A Place to Stand: The Making of a PoetA Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet by Jimmy Santiago Baca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pg. 152-153

“Had I been able to share my feelings that moment, I would have said what I was able to add years later, lying on my cot in an isolation cell in total darkness. I would have said I felt the many lives that had come before me, the wind carrying within the vast space of the range, and all that lived in the range–cows, grass, insects– but something deeper. Old women leaving their windows open so the breeze can pass through the rooms, blessing the walls, chasing away evil spirits, anointing floors, beds, and clothing with it’s tepid hand. The breeze excites larks to jackknife over the park pond, knocks on doors to ask people to remember their ancestors, peels paint off trucks and scrapes rust from windmill blades and withers young shoots of alfalfa, cleans what it touches and brings age and emptiness to dirt roads. This breeze blows on my brow sometimes when I’m on the prairie, and I feel immortal; it whispers, Better times will come, and I believe my dreams will come true. The breeze chases the young heels of children and pulls at little girls’ ponytails, draws red happiness out from their hears and pools it in their cold cheeks, scruffs youth up, tugs at old women’s long-sleeved bereavement dresses, sweeps away veils and handkerchiefs and dries their tears. It roars up from canyons, whistles from caves, blows fountains of green leaves across the air, loosens shale from cliffs, tears cottonwood pods, and bursts them to release fluffy cotton that sails past puffs of chimney smoke.

“I felt it all, the magic that Emiliano had urged me to feel and worship, to surrender to. The wild wind tossed itself on top of grass ends and nibbled seeds, danced with dust, took hold of he devil and sung him around a cactus, through sagebrush, to the music of a hundred insect wings vibrating and snakes hissing. It scurried on, laughing a chill down the spines of vaqueros on horseback, making their ponies lay their ears back, attentive to the spirits. It howled and thrashed in arroyos and launched itself in swoops, veering off sides of boulders and loose tin, creeping into the pueblo, scattering its ancient sandy prayers. The wind reclined in flame and swung itself to sleep, played with tumbleweeds, untwined itself like a slow-opening music box, and gave to the naked woman sleeping with her lover a threadbare love song, to the man meditating on life under a tree its lyrical wounds. The wind, the wind, the wind; ruffles curtains with its remorse, flings the child’s weeping complaint over post fences, muffles grief in the graying hair of middle-aged women, thuds at back doors and windows, slaps broken lumber against hinges, makes dogs cower behind houses, destroys tender gardens, effaces names on cemetery headstones, and makes my heart ache as blowing sand buries a wedding ring in the field. I felt all my people,felt them deep in the hard work they did, in faint and delicate red-weed prairie flowers, in the arguments over right and wrong, in my people’s irascible desire to live, which was mine as well. I felt their will was growing inside me and would ultimately let me be free as the wind.”

This is one of the best examples of Santiago-Baca’s lyrical language and haunting imagery used throughout “A Place to Stand.”

The story is one that resonates with me as I work in the health and youth development field, often times serving marginalized populations including foster youth, youth in juvenile hall, and immigrant youth. It was just so heartbreaking to listen to a story of oppression and heartbreak that was only made tolerable by the triumphant ending and continuous amazement at his ability to capture his experiences with the written word.

“Attempts at placing me in a foster home have failed. When prospective parents come, my brother and I are never chosen. Our hair, our color, our speech–everything is wrong about us. She asks me how I feel and other personal questions, and I respond with shrugs, not really caring about anything. I already know what I’m going to do. That night I sneak out of my dorm and meet my brother by the fence. He promises he’ll follow me as I take off down the ditch under the stars, crossing the alfalfa fields until I stop at the place we’re supposed to meet. He never comes. Later the cops arrest me for running away. After several runaways I’m finally taken to the Detention Center for Boys and put behind bars. In the end, as always, a cell is the only place they have for kids without families”
P. 174

“I knew almost nothing about my culture and I was surprised by the extent of his knowledge. From history to language to politics, he had opinions on everything, and when he spoke he did so with a flair– his expression intense, his words passionate, his hands pointing or pounding or waving with conviction. He told me one day that to outsiders his tattoos symbolized criminality and rebellion. But it was not so, he said. “I wear my culture on my skin. They want to make me forget who I am, the beauty of my people and my heritage, but to do it they got to peel my skin off. And if they ever do that, they’ll kill me doing it– and that’s good, because once they make you forget the language and history, they’ve killed you anyway. I’m alive and free, no matter how many bars they put me behind.”

P.223-224

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Responses

  1. It always amazes how much writing as beautiful as this can make my heart ache…and makes me hope that we are doing better & also try 2 be a part of that change 4 the better.


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