Words That Inspire: Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande

Poetry: Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande, by Jimmy Santiago Baca, with Note to Educators.
Acequias, David Bales

The acequias of New Mexico are communal irrigation canals, a way to share water for agriculture in a dry land. Excavated in the early 18th century, this acequia is in the village of Corrales, along the Rio Grande. Tiwa Indians irrigated farmland in the area as long as 1.300 years ago.

Photo by David Bales

“Sometimes I stand on the river bank
and feel the water take my pain,
allow my nostalgic brooding
a reprieve.
The water flows south,
constantly redrafting its story
which is my story,
rising and lowering with glimmering meanings—
here nations drown their stupid babbling,
bragging senators are mere geese droppings in the mud,
radicals and conservatives are stands of island grass,
and the water flows on,
cleansing, baptizing Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.
I yearn to move past these days of hate and racism.
That is why this Rio Grande,
these trees and sage bushes
the geese, horses, dogs and river stones
are so important to me—
with them
I go on altering my reptilian self,
reaching higher notes of being
on my trombone heart,
pulsing out into the universe, my music
according to the leaf’s music sheet,
working, with a vague indulgence toward a song
we the people.”


Note for Educators:

Do you have a spot in nature where you go to for refuge? For inspiration? For peace? A place where you can release your burdens, free of judgment?

Jimmy Santiago Baca stands on the banks of the Rio Grande and soaks in the river’s power and simplicity. It is this sacred place where Baca can safely voice his opinions, his feelings, his pain.

Foster reflection. Use this poem as an invitation for your students to step outside, find a spot in nature, and take note of this place so fully that they can talk to it about what is deeply and profoundly moving them. Have your students jot down the ideas that are swirling in their heads, ending their alone time calmly with pensive observations of the natural world around them.

Shout out. Perhaps the invitation is to 'shout out' what bothers them in the world.

Rough draft reading. Or, perhaps the invitation is to read the poem three times, what Anaheim, California high school English teacher Kelly Gallagher calls "rough draft reading."  The first time being their rough draft read, reading it quietly and taking a moment to jot down insights. Then, circling words and phrases that catch them off guard... and to writing questions in the margins. The second read beckons your students to jot down more thoughts. For the third and final reading, give your students three to five minutes to jot down what they think about the poem and what they think it says to them.

Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande is an invitation to let a river of feelings and big ideas about life flow from your students’ souls.

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