NOTE: This was originally posted July 1, 2016. With the daily news here in the U.S. of families seeking asylum being separated, children sleeping on concrete floors under glaring lights all night, without soap, or a toothbrush, or even a little kindness to help them endure, I thought we should listen to a voice which speaks their language.
When you write almost 60 profiles of poets a year, you read a lot of poetry.
Searching for poems that make you want to read more is both joy and drudgery.
Joy when you find something that ‘clicks.’
Drudgery while you wade hip-deep through all the words that don’t sing for you.
I recently found a voice that arrowed straight toward me, strong and sure, right through the babble, only to discover that the poet had died half a year earlier – so before we even met, I’d lost another friend.
Francisco X. Alarcón (1954–2016) was born in California and grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. Alarcón returned to the United States to attend California State University at Long Beach, and he earned his MA from Stanford University.
Our lives couldn’t have been more different. The connection is a love of words, and a respect for their power.
And a singular time of nightmare in the City of the Angels.
The L.A. Riots. They began April 29, 1992, when four white L.A.P.D. officers were acquitted of all charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, a beating that was shown over and over again in police videocam footage on television. The verdict would have been incomprehensible, but we had seen this before.
In November, 1991, a Korean-born grocer awaited sentencing for shooting a 15-year-old black girl in the head as she turned away to leave the store after a dispute over a bottle of orange juice. The entire city saw the whole thing on the store’s security video played repeatedly on the nightly news. The grocer was found guilty of manslaughter, which could have sent her to prison for up to 16 years. Instead, the judge sentenced her to five years probation, 400 hours community service, and a $500 fine.
Five months later, my neighborhood was close to the riot’s path. For four days, we were surrounded by a ring of daylight smoke and dark-of-the-moon fires. Worried the scattered gunfire might come our way, at night we lay down on the living room floor, below the level of the windows, trying to sleep.
Words create images and feelings that connect us to lives we’ve never lived. When that happens, we never see the world quite the same way again.
“Mexican” Is Not a Noun
to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and
seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for
showing solidarity with two thousand
striking cannery workers who were mostly
Mexican women, October 27, 1985
is a life
To Those Who Have Lost Everything
full of hope
fists of sorrow
a bitter night
a fantasy island
some time ago
(translated by Francisco Aragón)
I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
of ill repute
and gets up late
through the streets
before the lips
of his lover
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration
out of fear
before the flaring
to the last
bites the air
a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god
I want a
Francisco X. Alarcón wrote about his Latino identity, about being gay – about mythology, the Nahuatl language, Mesoamerican history – and about the culture of the United States. He wrote poetry and prose, and books for children, in two languages. He was honored with the Chicano Literary Prize (1984), the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award (1993), and a Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association (2002). He was director of the Spanish for Native Speakers Program at the University of California at Davis, and taught for the Art of the Wild workshop and the California Poets in
the Schools program.
On Sunday, January 10, 2016, there was a gathering of family, friends, musicians, Aztec dancers and even the poet himself, despite his illness, to read his poetry, and celebrate his life. The event, ¡Viva la Vida! (Long Live Life), was held at the Cafe La Boheme in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Francisco X. Alarcón died of cancer, on Friday morning, January 15, 2016. He was 61.
once again I look out your window
and the world looks oddly different,
maybe the fields have blossomed,
or perhaps more stars have been born
- “L.A. Prayer” from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems, © 2002 by Francisco X. Alarcón, University of Arizona Press
- “Mexican’ Is Not A Noun” from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems, © 2002 by Francisco X. Alarcón, University of Arizona Press
- “To Those Who Have Lost Everything” from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems, © 2002 by Francisco X. Alarcón, University of Arizona Press
- “Prayer,” translated by Francisco Aragón, from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems, © 2002 by Francisco X. Alarcón, University of Arizona Press
- Stanza from “Of Dark Love,” translated by Francisco Aragón, from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems, © 2002 by Francisco X. Alarcón, University of Arizona Press
- Academy of American Poets – https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/francisco-x-alarc%C3%B3n
- Poetry Foundation – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/francisco-x-alarcon
- El Tecolote – http://eltecolote.org/content/en/features/viva-la-vida-a-tribute-to-francisco-x-alarcon/
- Daniel Olivas interview with Francisco Aragón –
- Canto hondo/Deep Song (University of Arizona Press, 2015)
- Borderless Butterflies: Earth Haikus and Other Poems/Mariposas sin fronteras: Haikus terrenales y otros poemas (Poetic Matrix Press, 2014)
- Ce Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press, 2010)
- From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2002)
- Sonetos a la locura y otras penas/Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes (Creative Arts Book Company, 2001)
- No Golden Gate for Us (Pennywhistle Press, 1993)
- Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books, 1992)
- De amor oscuro/Of Dark Love (Moving Parts Press, 1991)
- Body in Flames/Cuerpo en llamas (Chronicle Books, l990)
- Loma Prieta (We Press, 1990)
- Quake Poems (We Press, 1989)
- Ya Vas, Carnal, with Rodrigo Reyes and Juan Pablo Gutiérrez (Humanizarte Publications, 1985)
- ¡Viva la Vida! at Cafe La Boheme
- Blue Jalisco tile
- Bonfire of a city
- Two examples of Huichol art – the Huichol people live in the Jalisco, Durango, and Nayarit states of Mexico
- Memorials for the dead on a border wall
- Underage migrant worker in Texas
- Photo of Francisco X. Alarcón
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud