survival & presence: francisco x. alarcón

Last week, I got to participate in an open mic at The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville. When I got up there, I made a note that it was my open mic in our new city, and that I always made it a point to find the open mics wherever we moved. Open mics are we you get to see the stories and the imagination of a city.

During my slot, I offered up this week’s poem by Francisco X. Alarcón in both English and Spanish. It was important to me to let the words hang in the air in both languages. I mentioned that between hurricanes in the gulf, forest fires here in the west, and the consequences of rescinding DACA, survival has been a constant in my conversations with family and friends.

alarcón4I would have loved to hear what Alarcón would say about our times now. His death almost two years ago now keeps being fresh on my mind as I find myself compelled to engage with the personal and political in my poems for new reasons. Only through such engagement can we reach new understandings. I say “new,” but the new always takes us back to the old, or, as in the poem below, the present. Alarcón’s poem asserts presence as a subversive act; being present with this poem allows me to be present within myself. Such is the gift Alarcón possessed and left for us in his work.

Natural Criminal – Francisco X. Alarcón
translated by Francisco Aragón

I am
a nomad
in a country
of settlers

a drop
of oil
in a glass
of water

a cactus
flowering
where one
can’t and
shouldn’t
flourish

I am
history’s
fresh and
living wound

my crime
has been being
what I’ve been
all my life

*

Naturaleza criminal – Fransico X. Alarcón

soy
un nómada
en un país
de sedentarios

una gota
de aceite
en un vaso
de agua

un nopal
que florece
en donde
no se puede
ni se debe
florecer

soy
una herida
todavía viva
de la historia

mi crimen
ha sido ser
lo que he sido
toda mi vida

from From the Other Side of the Night/del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems

*

Happy naturalezando!

José

* in memory of francisco x. alarcón

The X in My Name – Francisco X. Alarcón

the poor
signature
of my illiterate
and peasant
self
giving away
all rights
in a deceiving
contract for life

alarcón4The death of Francisco X. Alarcón earlier this month has been on my mind as I wrap up my 3rd year reading and work through exams this week. Reviewing his book, Canto Hondo/Deep Song was a revelatory experience for me. Through following and engaging with Alarcón’s singular minimalist poetics, I learned a lot about precision with the line as well as how much weight can be carried via emphasis. But it was his commitment to representing and singing for those who suffered that moved me the most.

His death remains a constant source of conversation in the Latin@ literary community, mourning and celebration following each other in a complex cycle that would’ve pleased el maestro. As shown in the poem above, Alarcón was well aware of the contradictions to be worked with in being a Chicano; even an X in a name can be a metaphor for the multifaceted tension of identity and self.

I write this post the night before my final 3rd year exam. Diving into my own sense of tradition and identity in Latin@ poetics has been an emotional journey. I have had great community throughout – from my CantoMundistas, to readers of my poems and books, as well as those of you who stop and read these Influences. Thank you. Thank you as well to the great teachers I’ve had, in the classroom and on the page.

“Mexican” Is Not a Noun – Francisco X. Alarcón

  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

“Mexican”
is not
a noun
or an
adjective

“Mexican”
is a life
long
low-paying
job

a check
mark on
a welfare
police
form

more than
a word
a nail in
the soul
but

it hurts
it points
it dreams
it offends
it cries

it moves
it strikes
it burns
just like
a verb

*

Happy verbing!

José

p.s. Here is Rigoberto González’s tribute to Alarcón.

* Francisco X. Alarcón: poem & review

* canto hondo *
* canto hondo *

Happy to share my latest review for the Volta Blog: a meditation on Francisco X. Alarcón’s latest collection, Canto Hondo. In my review, I discuss Alarcón’s engagement with Federico García Lorca’s ideas on cante jondo (deep song). Alarcón delves into García Lorca’s homage to his Andalusian influences to create his own deep song tempered by his own distinct poetic line, a line I describe as being “as alive and intimate as a nerve or a gasp.”

The review may be read here.

To get a sense of what I mean by the above, I’ve chosen this week’s poem from Alarcón’s From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche (University of Arizona Press). Following the poet’s line breaks, I like how the reader is invited into the thought and experience of each stanza. I’m also moved by the choice of moving from a four-line stanza to a three-line stanza, right at the line “…you’re home’s/nowhere -.” This change in form mirrors a change in the drama and tone of the poem; the stanzas that follow put forth their own hope and response to the dilemma of “those who have lost everything.”

Enjoy!

To Those Who Have Lost Everything – Francisco X. Alarcón

crossed
in despair
many deserts
full of hope

carrying
their empty
fists of sorrow
everywhere

mouthing
a bitter night
of shovels
and nails

“you’re nothing
you’re shit
your home’s
nowhere”—

mountains
will speak
for you

rain
will flesh
your bones

green again
among ashes
after a long fire

started in
a fantasy island
some time ago

turning
Natives
into aliens

 ***

Happy amonging!

José