Jimmy Santiago Baca (2 January 1952 / Santa Fe, New Mexico)
From Violence to Peace
Twenty-eight shotgun pellets
crater my thighs, belly and groin.
I gently thumb each burnt bead,
fingering scabbed stubs with ointment.
Could have neutered me, made extinct
the volatile, romantic man I am.
doctor at emergency room
could’ve easily told my wife that night.
Instead, “Soak him in a bath twice a day. Apply
this ointment to the sores. Here’s a month’s supply
of pain killers.” I remember the deep guttural groan
I gave, when the doctor pressed my groin.
I could still make love, morphine drowsed me
and in a dull stupor I don’t remember
police visiting my bed, or laughing so hard,
they scowled for a serious answer.
I howled a U.F.O. shot me along the Río Grande,
and they cursed and left.
In the summer of ’88
I’d traded alfalfa for a bull calf.
Still smelling of milk udders,
I tied it to the truck rack and drove off.
Its hooves teethed
at pink roots
’til the whole lush field went bare dirt.
A magnificent bull.
Glowing wheel of heart
breathed brimming stream of white flame at dawn.
He wrangled his black brawn
like a battleshield to challenge the sun,
reared thick neck down and sideways,
lunged at me with dart and snort,
hoof-stamped and nostrilled dirt,
’til I growled him back
with a limber willow branch,
poured grain in trough
and spread alfalfa.
I respected his horns
and he the whistling
menace of willow.
One afternoon my cousin Patricio
helped me band the bull’s scrotum,
usurp swollen sap
in his testicle sack. It withered
to a pink wattle and seeded
the garden to drive cornstalks
to bear hardy, golden horns.
Thereafter, he grazed the fenceline,
with the tempered lust and peaceful grace
of a celibate priest.
His bearing now arranged itself
elegant as a wild flower
sprung over night.
Perfecto shot it.
Rasping on a black rope of blood
round its neck, it staggered,
in bright lash of earthquaked air,
it stumble-butted stock trailer fender—
second and third shots glowed
A quivering shadow of life-flame
darkened the air and it sputtered
a last drop of blood.
I drank long swigs
of whiskey and, thinking it was dead,
turned to walk away,
it gave a tremendous groan, tremendous groan,
a birth-letting groan . . . a moon groan . . .
blood spurted out, thick, thick, thick
alleys of dead star blood
and I turned and said aloud to myself,
“That’s the moon’s voice!
That’s the moon’s voice!”
And the white moon was in the sky,
and I looked at the moon for a long time.
I sat on the ground
and gulped whiskey, drank the steer’s death
still warm in my throat.
A beautiful animal! I allowed to be butchered.
When it trounced and galloped in the field,
its body was a dark, windy cliff edge,
and its eyes were doorways of a dream—
now it bled a charred scroll
of ancient chant in gravel, I would never know,
and its blackened logs of blood
smoldered dying vowels, I would never hear.
My heart’s creak-n-tremble rage
milled the steer’s death to red grist,
I wept drunkenly
that no one cared,
that humankind betrayed him,
that we were all cowards.
Perfecto, Valasquez and the butcher
tried to stop me
but now was the time to settle
a bad feud with another friend.
Redeem the bull’s blood with ours.
I drove to Felipe’s house,
anger knotted in me
tight as the rope tied
to the stock trailer
steer strained against.
I pulled, but could not free myself.
(I had a dream night before—
I crossed black-iron footbridge,
partially collapsed by sea storm.
Left-hand railing swept out to sea,
I gripped bolt-studded right-hand railing,
finger-clutched wire netting sides,
carefully descended waist-high water. Waded
through slowly and ascended other side—
but had lost my sunglasses and wallet,
went back, groped bottom, found them and ascended again.)
Had to cross that bridge again.
Full of significance . . . tonight,
deepest part of flooded bridge was danger . . . drowning . . .
represented years of my life collapsed
and destroyed, water the cleansing element,
my ascent from had healed, onto firm ground,
but I went back, to re-live
“Felipe!” I yelled, porch light
flicked on, illuminating the yard.
“Came to fight,” I said, “take off
bewildered, then gray slits of lips
snarled, “You motherless dog!”
He withdrew in darkness a moment,
reappeared on porch, serrated saw of his voice
cut the chill dark,
“¡Hijo de su pinche madre!
First shot framed darkness round me
with a spillway of bright light,
eruption of sound, and second shot roared
a spray of brilliance and the third
gave an expanded halo-flash.
My legs woozed, and then
I buckled to the ground.
(I thought, holy shit, what ever happened
to the old yard-style fight between estranged friends!)
I groaned with the steer,
and crawled my dead legs
to the truck, lunged on elbows into the cab,
hand lifting the dead stone beneath my waist
to clutch and brake.
Following morning calls came,
“Tell us who did it Gato!”
“Our rifles are loaded!”
I said, “Leave it alone. What would you do
if a drunk man came into your yard,
threatened to beat you?”
I wanted peace,
wanted to diffuse the immovable core
of vengeance in my heart,
I had carried since a child,
dismantle the bloody wheel of violence
I had ridden since a child.
During my week in bed,
pellets pollinated me
with a forgotten peace,
and between waking thoughts of anger and vengeance,
sleep was a small meadow of light,
a clearing I walked into and rested. Fragrance of peace
filled me as fragrance
of flowers and dirt permeate hands
that work in the garden all day.
Curandero came to visit, and said,
“The bull in ancient times was the symbol of females.
Did you know that? Killing the bull,
is killing the intuitive part of yourself,
the feminine part. Did you realize,
when Jesus was raising Lazarus,
he groaned in his spirit and that bull groaned,
and when you killed the bull, it was raising you.
The dying bull gave birth to you and now you are either
blessed or cursed. The flood of that bull’s blood,
is either going to drown you or liberate you,
but it will not be wasted.”
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