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POETRY I BY DAVID RUIZ STEEL ON STEEL Night shadows dance on the wall, I hear the sound of steel on steel echo and re-echo through these cold cells. Officials pace the catwalks, counting and recounting, “Ruiz are you there?” I see you try to break us Yes, I am still here. see you isolate and kill, You laugh. I hear it then call us killers, echo and re-echo call us violent so we escape through these sad cells. a little while: drink, drug ourselves, for which you “Ruiz, what do you see, lock us in again, the alone in that cell at night?” sound of steel on steel echoes and re-echoes I see your face without its mask, through these bitter cells. I see ships full of Blacks in chains, I see the slaughter of my “Ruiz, you just one Mexkin. You Ancestors lost your youth, your hair is gray. Mexicans and Indians, What do you think you gained?” I see you steal their lands, you sit on the face of the poor I’m the huevon Mexican, cell-taught, in the free world you lock us out self-taught, the original writ-writer, so we steal, then you lock us in chained up and locked down with the sound of steel on steel for a lifetime. I’m the Mexican that echoes and re-echoes who never gave up, who fought till through these lonely cells. every prisoner, guard, and lawyer in America knows me, I taught myself to use your tools: I’m Ruiz, unbroken for all your torture, all your shackles and steel on steel that echoes and re-echoes through these dark cells. When the Eagle killed the Serpent a Nation was born; when the people rise my Nation is born: I am whole in The People’s Nation. The people will judge you, not me. You are the one trapped in the sound of steel on steel which echoes and re-echoes through these empty cells. DAVID RUIZ was a human rights activist who taught himself to read, write, draft legal documents, and craft poems during his life in prison. His suit, Ruiz v. Estelle, filed on behalf of hundreds of prisoners and supported by a work stoppage that involved thousands, brought the Texas prison system under federal oversight for 20 years and ended the brutal system of employing favored prisoners as “building tenders.” His campaign against the medical neglect of all prisoners in the Texas system ended with his death on November 12, 2005.Naomi Shihab Nye DECEMBER 2, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21