Jimmy Santiago Baca, whose work has appeared frequently in THE SUN, saw Ram Dass for the first time last May 13 and sent us this poem a week later.
There are four references that may be unfamiliar: Yo Soy Joaquin is a book by Rodolfo Gonzalez, tracing the history and culture of the chicanos; Atzlan is the legendary Aztec homeland; the seven cities of Cibola are the legendary seven cities of gold; Cabeza de Vaca was one of the Spanish conquistadors who was shipwrecked and wandered alone for years.
I. Wearing loose, light-colored clothing in two’s and three’s and more winding down flagstone lanes of campus hundreds grouped at the doors of Memorial Hall. The hall filled with people. Ram Dass entered casual as a wandering farmhand. He sat on his cushion on the stage floor jug of water cloth shoulder bag at his side. He opened a small picture folder set it before him lit an incense stick closed his eyes breathed deeply. He wore a red shirt and white pants behind him the deep space of the black stage curtain. II. In his search for truth to be more human to love and be love he had passed through what we pass through his cock got hard he lip-smacked wine thigh slapped bad jokes met the I-don’t-give-a-damn man, all gumption and balls, knew there was fucking in the red mud of a country road in back seats, alleys, beds paused on a sunday evening to sit on a porch with ole boys shooting craps passed through Harvard great voodoo center of america who sent its puppets over the world pinned and waxed to kill and maim and torture while Indians and Chicanos were handcuffed and beat down like bloody dogs and The Rapist became Therapist and vw vans chugged long hairs into san fran to the beer gulping songs of short hairs the skull scorched in lsd sun while lepers dressed in black rags in courthouses who sat on benches like old women in parks ordered indictments for the innocent and kicked down doors while the Mohawk Nation was bloody from BIA bullets and the hecklers drank peach wine as fast as barbwire unrolled around new prisons and the young hordes sat in gutters filling their veins with gibran and ginsberg Yo Soy Joaquin bursted the chains and Atzlan prevailed while janice trembled with her ball and chain and yielded to eternity power plants grazed on grass plains where Navajo sheep and goats had been forced off while the cities rumbled Ram Dass followed a thread of truth in himself and held to it through mountainous cliches the gaudy glitter and dazzle of godliness and searched in the downpour of madblood and doom to be more human. And he stuck to his search. III. Civilrights marches blazed over America and earth became a wash rag soaking up blood of her wounded while one rioter walked in himself back over his life and as he did so in the deep darkness blinking its eyes he found another part of himself and together they went burning old thought-buildings breaking windows that reflected false faces throwing junk into the street they didn’t need overturning truckloads of learning that simmered like mist into thin air, beliefs reduced to rubble old solutions smoldered and the street named life behind them lay strewn with garbage, crumblings in their dyings and they laughed inhaling the sweet highs of a reality disappearing behind them in the midst of nowhere now alone in oblivion earth and cosmos were left one would live down here and the other in here but they were both one, one living inside the other one. And he stuck to it. IV. Walking, always walking in himself he would come upon another illusion in himself glimmering seven cities of cibola his own conquistador plundering his thought-empire desecrating his own temples what was virgin was raped until nothing was left he went on like cabeza de vaca wild eyed in the desert shedding his armor to don his own nakedness when he came upon an Indian and the Indian laughed at the silly man who could not find himself and they travelled together for years until finally they came to the place to the tombstone where he saw his name carved. V. Now he was Ram Dass now he was the rivers the dust in which he rolled and wept at the Indian’s feet now he was of vision heat a great horizon encircling earth and the human being. Walking still sticking to the only dance there is for him grinding out the grist for the mill to be here now, in Chapel Hill in Memorial Hall gazing with beautiful eyes and smile. VI. He was pilot we audience co-pilots. I smiled with joy to hear my pilot say, “Red Exit Signs On Over The Doors Of Time And Space.” “Ten 4,” I replied, via the heart. He spoke. He paused, breathed deeply smiled. We paused in our listening smiled. Communication flowed in flash rushes then a great groan of breaking water pipes electrical wires ripping shudders and tremors the noise and scenes all drowned in the silence of hundreds of people smiling as the great bulky building levitated off the ground brushing past treetops on Franklin Street open mouths full of mashed hotdog awed cars crashed into each other lawyers ran from their studies to their porches robbing reality (campus property), but the great building ballooned up as tiny as a bathtub boat floating the high wind waves west. VII. Over england the queen farted over iran Ayatollah accused carter of sending more commandos a weird looking helicopter noted the militants brezhnev fainted face first in his platter of pork chops over india we heard an old man’s laughter nixon knelt to his picture and prayed kissinger said it threatened national security and alerted carter who was counting his peanuts and poets waved cattle grazed sleepily as always unbothered, cats licked their fur owls hooted fields were fields and beautiful as ever and way down there the moon size of a bead in the palm-size desert on a small pebble of a mountain bluff Reason smaller than any grain of sand howled. VIII. The building landed about midnight same place I stepped outside skirted passersby on the sidewalk and closing in to the city sounds and lights Reason was no longer smaller than a grain of sand but a full hackled wolf baring its bloody gums and yanking at its chain giving raw-throated growls to the faces of others nearing mine hurrying by under the moon I return to a world of fixed pipes and connected wires to a world at the young girl’s feet that blows its wolf nostrils covered in hair and crude drivel its eyes silver dimes the outside imprints the face of what we have done and the inside the face of all we have not