Martín: amp;, Meditations on the South Valley consists of two long narrative poems that form a sequence: They relate the story of Martín, a generic or mythic poor Chicano. In writing these poems, Baca came into his own as a poet. Although the poems are somewhat prosy, particularly at narrative junctures, he manages his language well: Chicano folk life is described in memorable, original metaphors and diction (including some Chicano Spanish) that form pictures like punched art in old tin. His style has developed considerably since Immigrants in Our Own Land, becoming what Denise Levertov called Gongoresque, with touches of native Hispanic surrealism: “The highway was a black seed split/ petals of darkness blossomed from.”
The two poems are also peopled with a gallery of vivid characters, including Martín’s grandmother, parents, and pals (mostly gang members). Inhabitants of barrios come forth with old stories about his parents—one-armed Pepin, blind Estela Gomez, Señora Martinez, Melinda Griego, Pancho Garza, and Antonia Sanchez, Ia bruja de Torreón. There are also stories of Martín’s friends, who have suffered their separate fates—“Johnny who married,/ Lorenzo killed in Nam,/ Eddie en la Pinta,/ Ramon who OD’d in Califas.” The main story, however, is Martín’s, based on Baca’s autobiography but freely changed and shaped to mythic purposes.
Like Baca, Martín is a deprived child from a broken family. Martín’s parents abandon him; later, his mother is killed by her jealous second husband, and Martín’s father dies of alcoholism. Martín himself lives first with his grandmother and then in an orphanage, but at the age of ten he runs away. He becomes an uprooted person, living a dissolute and sometimes violent life on the streets. In the first section of Martín, he says, “I have been lost from you Mother Earth,” but he promises to...
(The entire section is 784 words.)