Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley Summary
by Jimmy Santiago Baca

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Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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 return.

Most of Martín recounts his wanderings and his efforts to return to his roots. He questions people about his parents, trying to reconstruct memories of them. He has a pleasant image of his mother “dancing in front of the mirror/ in pink panties, . . . / Her laughter rough as brocaded cloth/ and her teeth brilliant as church tiles.” He also remembers some friendly visits with his father, but mostly the memories are bad. His mother, sexually abused by her own father, could never form close emotional ties: She left her husband and the newborn Martín and “ran away to California” with her lover. Martín also well remembers his last meeting with his father: His drunken father cuffed and cursed him, and “I kicked you down/ vomiting whiskey/ to the ground.”

Martín’s search for roots continues, and he finally finds them in Burque (Albuquerque), where he moves in with a good woman, Gabriela. They eventually buy “a small house/ along the river, in Southside barrio.” Martín’s rebuilding of the dilapidated home and clearing of trash from the “half-acre of land in the back” symbolize the reestablishment of his Chicano roots, and these are solidified by the birth of a baby, Pablito. In the poem’s last lines, Martín cradles the baby and promises, “you and all living things,/ I would never abandon you.”

In Meditations on the South Valley, the saga of Martín and his little family continues. Disaster strikes: Their home burns to the ground, and they are forced to move into a suburban apartment with middle-class tenants who have “ceramic faces” and walk manicured poodles. A test of how well Martín’s roots are established, the experience only deepens his appreciation for the barrio: “I don’t want/ to live here/ among the successful. To the South Valley/ the white dove of my mind flies,/ searching for news of life.” With all its dirt and disorder, the barrio contains a vitality for which Martín longs:

People live out real lives in the South Valley.Tin can lids patch adobe walls,the moon through a windowsmolders at St. Francis’ statue feet on a...

(The entire section is 1,245 words.)