Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568

Baca’s unpretentious poems are presented by him as mirrors that send signals to his readers as the Western films of his youth showed groups signaling each other with mirrors. In the movies, he saw lives depending upon the receipt and the understanding of the signals. Baca’s belief that his life was literally saved by poetry is inherent in his attempt to signal salvation to others in his poem “Ancestor.”

Baca, an unconventional poet of Chicano and Apache heritage who found the poetry of his salvation in prison, presents in this poem an unconventional father figure who gives both life and salvation to his children. The poet Baca is priest as the father is priest: Both perform a natural and sacred ritual. Transubstantiation is the experience of this poem—the natural is rendered divine on the altar and in the scripture of life.

As he holds the children of his body and his blood up for the world to see, the father of the children says, “Here are my children!” The priest, father or pastor of his congregation, during Mass says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” Baca, likewise, is a priest in offering his poem as lifeblood for the consumption of his congregation of readers. The venue of each priest is both different and the same. The father offers his children to “the wind,/ to the mountains, to the skies of autumn and spring,” asking that they be cared for and infused with the holiness of life. The priest offers his sacrament to God, asking that it be infused with the essence of Christ in order that his congregation be cared for and infused with the holiness of Christ.

Baca offers his poem as communion to and with his readers in order that they might be moved by a glimpse of life’s divinity and might, having received, go forth thereafter to celebrate the sacred ceremony of living. In the mystic tradition joy is to be found in the mundaneness of life and by the most humble of human beings; the experiences of life are transformed into overriding joy. So in this poem the gypsy scorned by society touches his children with love, and, with his simple touch or word, he brings realization of their holiness to those children. The man seen by some as an orange tree and seen by others as a horse useless to the task of horses is a carrier of joy to women and children. Baca, in his depiction of rude family life—the children work in the cotton fields and live in a crude, dilapidated shelter—demonstrates the receipt and understanding and the flowering of joy in his subjects.

The mirror signal of “Ancestor” is meant to deflect the kind of signal those who fear the poem’s father send. Baca’s belief is that the literature of indigenous peoples can bring life to a culture grown away from life. In “Ancestor,” in showing a simple holy man bringing holiness to his children, this indigenous poet means to bring life and meaning to his reader. With the presentation of this family, he signals all of humankind in showing that each human being is a child of “the earth and whatever god our religion may give us.” He admonishes each member of the human family to celebrate life—daily—as the sacred ceremony he shows it to be.

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