In the title poem, Jimmy Santiago Baca says: "To write the story of my soul / I trace the silence and stone / of Black Mesa." This collection of poems carries the reader into the mountains and valleys of northern New Mexico, and to the barrio where the poet and his family live. They are poems full of incident and experience, of the "twenty-eight shotgun pellets" that remain in "my thighs, belly, and groin" from an incident with Felipe in 1988 ("From Violence to Peace"), and the slaughter of a sheep to the tattoo of wild drums ("Matanza to Welcome Spring"), and the tragic story of "El Sapo," the Frog King.

Baca’s characters live close to the land, close to the mountains, and sometimes outside the law ("Tomas Lucero"). These poems witness to the violence and despair of barrio life, but also to its energy and joy. Baca’s hope continues "to evolve with the universe / side by side with its creative catastrophe."


Baca’s brand of poetry is lyrical yet expansive, completely personal yet socially engaged, self-affirming yet generous. His lines are musical, meant to be savored in the mouth and on the ear. The syllables roll out with relish and abandon, but the abandon is only apparent and conceals their underlying discipline.

Black Mesa Poems is a powerful statement of Baca’s identity--a young Hispanic man from an impoverished family in rural New Mexico--yet in many respects it closely resembles the poetry of that great American writer of Dutch-English extraction, Walt Whitman. Black Mesa Poems is Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Leaves of Grass and "Song of Myself." See also the more recent collection, Set This Book on Fire! (Cedar Hill Publications, Mena, Arkansas, 1999).


New Directions

Place Published

New York



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