Jimmy Santiago Baca, “Like an animal” … the hum of spiders…

JimmySantiagoBaca_NewBioImagethe hum of spiders:
an anthology
of works & words

Jimmy Santiago Baca

“Like an animal”

Behind the smooth texture
Of my eyes, way inside me,
A part of me has died:
I move my bloody fingernails
Across it, hard as a blackboard,
Run my fingers along it,
The chalk white scars
That say I AM SCARED,
Scared of what might become
Of me, the real me,
Behind these prison walls.


The poetry of Jimmy Santiago Baca, filled with grit and fire, reflects the difficult life the poet has forged. I do not doubt the world inside his works, nor do I doubt the sincerity of the voice.

This powerful piece shows the impact of a culture’s learning, and what is learned is a dreadful lesson. Fear is what fuels the energy of the poem, and when Baca writes of fear, I believe him.

A mask, quite the universal trope, begins the poem – “the smooth texture / Of my eyes” – illustrating the falsehood that human nature presents. The message of fear in the speaker – “the real me” – is a personal one, and is encountered physically and emotionally. One of the poem’s strengths is a binding syntax that is, by design, compacted and limiting. Note how even the syllabic form of the words is restrained – 68 syllables in 55 words. The tight language generates its own power, creating a force that’s apparent on the page and easily heard when the lines are read aloud.

Prison life in the biography of the poet falls away to even stouter prison walls that are various but absolutely present in every reader.

Sometimes terror is beautiful – as in this poem.

~ by samofthetenthousandthings on January 4, 2016.

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