poetry

30 days of poems: day seven 

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A beautifully illustrated example of kintsugi by Jenn Yoshioka based off a print by Hashiguchi Goyo.

I’ve always loved Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems—leave it to me to feel an affinity for a former addict ex-felon who honed his craft while in prison and was abandoned by his family at a young age. He’s Chicano and Apache, too… so while there are similarities, there are differences, just going to show that literature can often be a universal language. As a white woman, especially while in graduate school, I’ve often been told I didn’t have a right to fully identify with writers of color (and I wasn’t being a good feminist if I did so if they were male writers of color). 

But the problem is that many of the experiences I had as a child and young woman (and, even now) are tied to class, not race, and the stark truth is that there have only been brief blips in my economic history in which I’ve risen above lower-middle-class. I’m talking about things like abuse (physical, emotional, psychological), incest (from a close *female* relative, even more taboo of a subject), homelessness, constant financial insecurity, insufficient access to quality health care (including mental health services and women’s health services), a lack of quality role models (both for how to be a person and how to have a decent relationship), and having a constant feeling as though I’d missed a manual everyone else might’ve received at birth entitled “How to be Normal.”

In any case, I’ve shared Santiago Baca’s poetry before, he’s good friends with my writing mentor, and all of his poetry speaks to me, even if on the surface all you see is a white woman with lots of letters behind her name who carries herself as though she’s never known thousands of hardships that left her heart cracked in a way that, if you looked deeper, you’d see forced her to become an expert in kintsugi, which is why she cherishes the wabi-sabi tattoo on her inner right forearm, wabi-sabi being a concept introduced to her by her writing mentor, who first showed her the beauty in the poetry of the man whose words come next. Please enjoy.

Who Understands Me but Me

By Jimmy Santiago Baca

They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?
I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love,
my beauty,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
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