The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Jimmy Santiago Baca’s “Ancestor” is an unrhymed lyric poem that ultimately offers to the reader an invitation to partake of the “sacred ceremony” of life. Contained within the invitation is the warning that the way to the celebration is often blocked by the artifice and soullessness of those who do not recognize or who ignore the invitation issued to all by life itself and by its celebrants. The poem presents the story, in the musings of one of the sons, of three children whose unconventional father instilled in that son and his siblings the true meaning of life. Implicit in the telling of the story are society’s values that are too often believed to be the only of life’s values.

The literal ancestor first introduced by the speaker of the poem is the father of the two sons and a daughter. The only suggestion of the children’s mother, or of more than one mother of the three children, is that young women responded positively to the masculinity of their father: they “plucked from him sweet fruit.” The traditional mother figure of this family is the children’s grandmother.

The father of the children is in no way a traditional father. He neither mends the crumbling walls of the home nor ministers to the physical or emotional scrapes and bruises of his children. Society’s judgment is first suggested in the poem’s opening line, which says that “they were afraid of him.” Recognition of society’s values are reflected in...

(The entire section is 551 words.)