A good kind of synergy came from reading June Jordan and Jimmy Santiago Baca so close together — especially in these two poems describing the leaders of different struggles over justice and land. One in Chicago, one in Albuquerque. I love how this form captures so perfectly the different feel, the different place. At the same time they feel almost like two sides of my own life, L.A. tenant unions and my LA/ Tucson neighborhoods and every childhood Thanksgiving up in Albuquerque with my grandparents…
For Beautiful Mary Brown, Chicago Rent Strike Leader
— From Some Changes (June Jordan, 1971)
All of them are six
who wait inside that other room
where no man walks but many
talk about the many wars
Your baby holds your laboring arms
that bloat from pulling
up and down the stairs to tell
to call the neighbors: We can fight.
She listens to you and she sees
you crying on your knees or else
the dust drifts from your tongue and almost
she can feel her father standing tall.
Came to Chicago like flies to fish.
Found no heroes on the corner.
Butter the bread and cover the couch.
Save on money.
tell me how you wash hope hurt and lose
don’t tell me how you
sit still at the windowsill:
you will be god to bless you
Mary Brown. (p 48-49)
From Meditations on the South Valley
(Baca – 1985)
El Pablo was a bad dude.
Presidente of the River Rats
(700 strong), from ’67 to ’73.
Hands so fast
he could catch two flies buzzing
in air, and still light his cigarette.
From a flat foot standing position
he jumped to kick the top of a door jamb
twice with each foot.
Pants and shirt ceased and cuffed,
sharp pointy shoes polished to black glass,
El Pachucón was cool to the bone, brutha.
His initials were etched
on Junior High School desks,
Castañeda’s Meat Market walls,
downtown railway bridge,
on the red bricks of Civic Auditorium,
Uptown & Downtown,
El Pachucón left his mark.
Back to the wall, legs crossed, hands pocketed,
combing his greased-back ducktail
when a jaine walked by. Cool to the huesos.
Now he’s a janitor at Pajarito
Elementary School —
still hangs out
by the cafeteria, cool to the bone,
still wears his sunglasses,
he leads a new gang of neighborhood parents
to the Los Padilla Community Center
to fight against polluted ground water,
against Developers who want to urbanize
his rural running grounds
Standing in the back of the crowd
last Friday, I saw Pablo stand up
and yell at the Civic Leaders from City Hall
“Listen cuates, you pick your weapons
We’ll fight you on any ground you pick.” (72)