“Waiting” by Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca


I remember it was a game—blindfolded,
an adult handed me a broomstick,
turned me round until wobbly,
I swung a few times
then whack, I smacked la piñata,
candy and kids scattered everywhere,
blinded by the bounty.

Also, blindfolded,
we played
touch & you’re it:
arms extended, I grope air
teased by lunging giggles, reach
and miss
until finally I touch another kid,
and he’s it.

These games, I understood.

This Lady Justice, blindfolded, I don’t.
Was she kidnapped?
I’ll pay her ransom
to get her back, to get her to drop the blindfold
so she can see again, and we don’t
have to go far—no ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram—
in Albuquerque, Central Avenue, police murdered
Luis Montoya last night, and two others raped
Maria Quintana on the Westside mesa.

Lady Justice, you have a comfortable way
to inhabit time; in your righteousness,
understanding life only in terms of your darkness,
do you not feel an irremediable loss and sadness?

Yes, you live in darkness. Better to have those scales
stolen and melted in the furnace of a closed steel mill
into gold rings and bracelets for the wealthy
that ruin this country, rulers
who rent out jail cells to the poor,
corporate oligarchs who spread your legs
in judge’s chambers and repeatedly fuck you.

You’ve lived in darkness too long,
time for the blindfolds to come off,
to look around at your people,
La Raza—who wander
in your shadow, homeless refugees
waiting for you to untie the knot and throw that rag
away, swing the razor-edged scales on that chain
as if they were weapons and cut and slice at injustice.

I can help.

I can teach you to take my hand
and dance. You don’t have to be afraid,
you don’t have to be in denial, we can both,
with three hundred million others,
teach you to see again, to sing and give you purpose
and a life again that explains why you are here
holding those golden scales as you do.

Right now,
those scales are weighed down—rusting away
holding Wall Street yachts in one—poor in the other—

Shake ’em! Shake ’em! Free ’em up!
As if you had a poisonous spider on your hand—
Shake it off! Shake it off!

So you can accurately weigh the weight
of my humanity against injustice, get the precise
reading of my suffering against their riches,
correctly measure my life’s worth
and dreams for a better life
against corrupt judges and corporate oppressors;

turn your scales to catch the sun’s reflection,
illuminate my dreams again with hope,
let your light rays shoot into the alleys,
jail cells, under bridges, hospitals, old-age homes,
food lines, on teenage sex-slaves and runaways
fucking privileged men for a hamburger and fries.

Wake the fuck up, Lady!

You’ve been in that pose out there
way too long, pretending to represent
people like me living week to week—
take a bath, brush your hair, look presentable,
there’s a lot of us waiting for you,
and we can help you, just take that blindfold off
and throw away those sleeping pills
and see us.

We can help, we’ve been at it a long time,
and you can join us in the lines
marching, protesting, fasting, striking,
you don’t have to be afraid: sure, you might
get bruised or gassed or pepper sprayed,
end up getting arrested and beat up,
but we can free you, we can make you feel alive
and vibrant, and we’ll show you how beautiful
life can be, how much you’re loved,
when you’re with us, we’re ready to help you.

from Rattle #62, Winter 2018


Jimmy Santiago Baca: “I was a scared eighteen-year-old kid in prison. I didn’t want to join any of the gangs. I saw right through it. But it did get me in the end; the power over another human being is addictive. You do a little bit and you want another line, and then another line. It took me a couple years to fight that. The only access I had was to walk through the door of the page. It was the only way through, get a book and read. If I didn’t walk through that door, I’d end up fighting somebody. And when you have no self-esteem, and you’re full of self-loathing, reading gives you perspective and lessens the self-hatred one carries after a lifetime of abuse and poverty and drug use.”

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