Saturday, March 25, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no.13

“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry &Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 
*

Micro-review: Verónica Reyes, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives, Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press, 2013

by Sheryl Luna


The poem “Los Angeles River—Rio Grande: brown speckled mirrors” by Verónica Reyes in Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books/ Red Hen Press)  opens beneath the old Juárez El Paso International Puente. The Río Grande river runs below is described as being strangled. Politics, we are told, “lace the bordered fortress dividing tierra y familias.” It migrates between Spanish and English, between cultures, between time and between places.

The poem then moves to Los Angeles, which the speaker says is a reflection of the Río Bravo. The stanza focuses on the smog, sewage and dirt of the city which is used to indicate the corruption of the land. It too struggles. The Los Angeles river

            Trails down a 1930’s gringo-made route cutting the canela dirt.
            Patchwork of yellow chaparral and desert line in the brown agua.

Much of the poem is spent reflecting on the Mexican people who lived in California long before it became part of the United States.

            They say California was once México living in Aztlán:
            The Anasazi, the Ventura people, la Mexica existed here.
            On this arid land, this State, there lived many nations.
            They were a living part of the living blue seacoast:

                        in a dream, seashells were money, half a mussel was a spoon.
                        the acorn source of a stable diet, women crushed them

This along with earlier images of tossed garbage cans, black tires, wobbling signs, murky canal water, red-brown children fill the poem with a longing for the past before the border was drawn.

The speaker asks three times whether or not this was or is a dream.

            Was it a dream that the earth lived and breathed
            blue skies so freely?

Towards the end of the poem, there is a man at the edge of the concrete bordering the water. We are back in the Río Grande.

            In the Zacatecas, Jalisco, Sonora, he left his familia,
            His daughter waits for him by the puerta.
            Her mother tells her, “Papi will be back soon.”
            And the heavy sun settles itself beneath Tonantzín

            . . .

            Este hombre could be my tío, mi papa, my brother


It is also a migration between two languages and two cultures with the speaker taking the #30 bus down to el Centro, crossing over to la Primavera Street puente from Boyle Heights to Broadway avenue. She is all the while traversing the Río Grande, as well as L.A. in her imagination.

*
           
Sheryl Luna is the author of Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press), recipient of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and Seven (3: A Taos Press), finalist for the Colorado Book Award.  Recent work has appeared in Poetry, Saranac Review, Pilgrimage and Taos International Journal of Poetry and Art.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no. 12


“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry &Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.


Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 
 


*

NOTES ON THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE MEXICAN BORDER

by Cynthia Cruz



Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland  is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyes, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the “normal.”
                                                  ——Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera



I read of a young girl who, after making her way through Mexico and crossing the US-Mexican border arrived speechless. The female worker assigned her case was unable to gather any information from the girl—who was visibly traumatized and clearly rendered mute from her travels.

Something happened during her exodus, the act of abandoning her home and traveling to safety to the US—something so traumatic she lost the ability to speak.

*

The girl was Mexican only when she arrived on the border. Before that, she was a girl. A girl who lived in Mexico. She became this something else when she arrived in the US, as she entered its threshold. As Judith Butler writes, as Fanon and Louis Althusser write, her becoming this other entity is the result of having being called into it. When she arrived at the border, she became Mexican, an immigrant, a refugee, a criminal. These are what the white border patrol or police person or white civilians called her and call her; and so it is what she becomes, what she became. Who she is now.

The border is a phantasm, a mirage imagined and then formed, made, upon this imagining. Those who attempt to find safety by passing through become something and someone else when they do.

*

Borders are unnatural, they are man-made; artificial and a means to separate those in power from those outside of it. The word border originated from the Old French bordure, which means ”seam, edge of a shield, border.” A border is a “rip,” it is a “seam.”

A  border is a distinct act of violence.

*

I want to talk now of the body and what happens to one’s body when one finds one’s self not at home in the world. In Sara Ahmed’s brilliant text Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, she writes: “Phenomenology helps us to explore how bodies are shaped by histories, which they perform in their compartment, their posture, and their gestures.” History and trauma are inexplicably linked: when one does not feel at home in the world, one holds back, hesitates. Furthermore, when one has become “Other” by others they are surrounded by, this is doubly so. Like being bullied in school, being seen and named as less than because one has come from someplace else, because one does not look like everyone else, does not speak or move like everyone else—this informs and changes one’s self and one’s body which, in turn, changes the way we move in the world. We take up less space, speak less, we overcompensate.

*

How do boundaries, which are artificial and a means of delineating who is allowed into the system and who is not, inform the way one is able or un-able to move in such a world.

And how does one carry this border or boundary within one’s self? This knowing that one is always Other, always even when one makes one’s way into and through this boundary, never fully absorbed? Always, always on the outside of this boundary which does not stop at the border, but is carried and reaffirmed in a multiplicity of ways within the boundaries of the United States.

In other words, even when we cross through and into, we never fully enter. We are always outside.

*

My own experience is this: I am the daughter of a Mexican-American, a man whose family came to the United States from Mexico, a man who was not able to complete grammar school due to his having to work in the fields—

My father does not exist. Though he has lived in the United States his entire life, he is invisible.

He is silent. He is framed and contained by a system not interested in him. And the way this presents in his day to day life is via access to institutions and means of earning a living.

It is not true, what he told me and what his parents told him, that if you work hard enough, you will move out of the class you were born into. It is not true there are no class systems in the United States of America. Class is a boundary, a border; it keeps people in their place. And the ideology that if one works hard enough, one can move up and out of their class, is a means to silence those in this space. Ambition and striving as a means to keep one’s mind and body busy while one is working multiple jobs and not moving forward at all. As long as one believes that if one just works hard enough, they will move up (and if they don't move up, it’s their own fault), one will not notice that one’s entire life has passed by.

My father has worked his entire life. My father lives in poverty.

*

When I was working as a nanny in the Hamptons one summer my boss, the father of the small child I nannied, asked me one evening, after I had finished my dinner at a separate table in a separate room from the family, “How do you end up with the name Cruz?”

It was not until he asked me the question that I became aware how much my name and what it meant had troubled him; how, I realized when he asked the question, that it had been bothering him since he hired me.

My name and where I come from arrives before me even before I speak; I am positioned, who I am and my body, are kept within that space.

*

To lose one’s voice when confronted with a border, with a boundary, with power that does not want you to enter—this is what I am attempting to address here. But words, as always, fail me.

*

What does it mean to lose one’s voice?

When I was a small child I did not speak. Perhaps there was something I was not able or unwilling to articulate or maybe my not-saying was in itself a kind of saying, its own strange language. 

And how does not speaking, a not-speaking that may in fact be the direct result of the trauma of coming upon a border, of experiencing not being at home, create its own border, its own threshold?

And how might this self-formed boundary, this threshold, serve as a form of resistance?

For my father and for my family, assimilation was the aim as it is for many immigrants. And yet, it has proved impossible; full immersion, impenetrable. We won’t be digested—we can enter, if we enter, but then we remain, still, outside. Remnant, dreg, excess.

*

And finally, I have to address the obvious: the very fact that I am living and surviving in this culture means I am a part of it; I am, in a sense, assimilated. Also, though not middle-class, I am also not without a place to live, I am not without work (adjunct and seasonal and yet—work).

That I have enough food to eat and clothes on my body, that I am not in immediate danger of my life, for my security, of deportation—presumes a kind of integration that I must acknowledge.

And yet what I am speaking of here is a way that one can remain outside of, even inside, the borders. This is what I am speaking of—when I think of my father who worked full time and often several jobs at once, and yet never had a savings, never owned a home, is peripheral. He did not leave a mark where he went. This is what I mean—a kind of tracelessness, a silence that is the result of years of being on the other side of gates and borders, counters and desks—always on the other side of power and institutions, access—and a way of moving one’s body through space—knowing that one belongs, that one’s body belongs in the space.

*

To be not at home, to be not at home in a space that will not, cannot, absorb one, is to be disoriented, to be lost, in a way. But also, this losing, this being not at home-ness, creates a stronger, perhaps, other, sense of knowing.

What happens when one loses one’s sight is that one’s sense of smell and hearing and touch become more sensitive—and in a way, one becomes more animal in the way that animals trust what they smell and hear, what their bodies sense, more than what they see. Intuitive, perceptive, disoriented but oriented in a new, strange way, what Gloria Anzaldua calls La facultad:

     La facultad is the capacity to see in surface phenomena the meaning 
     of deeper realities, to see the deep structure below the surface. It is an 
     instant “sensing,” a quick perception arrived at without conscious reasoning. 
     It is an acute awareness mediated by the part of the psyche that does not 
     speak, that communicates in images and symbols which are the faces 
     of feelings, that is, behind which feelings reside/hide. The one 
     possessing this sensitivity is excruciatingly alive to the world


Cynthia Cruz is the author of four collections of poetry: Ruin (2006), The Glimmering Room (2012), Wunderkammer (2014), and How the End Begins (2016). Her fifth collection of poems, Dregs, is forthcoming in 2018 along with a collection of essays,  Notes Toward a New Language,exploring silence and marginalization. Cruz has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in writing and an MFA in Art Criticism & Writing from the School of Visual Arts. Cruz is currently pursuing a PhD in German Studies at Rutgers University. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no. 11

from Weslaco High School La Palma Yearbook, 1991

“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 

Correction

by Emily Pérez


You are fifteen the first time it happens and you know the power of names and renaming from your study of the Bible, from learning about slavery, from that made-for-TV movie about the witness protection program, only this is not about witnessing and you are no stranger to confusion over your name, for according to family rules—names that sound good in English and Spanish, names that do not rhyme with anything, initials that don’t spell anything, a desire to name you for someone else but not call you that name—your parents decided to call you by your middle name,  which results in a lifetime of bureaucratic nightmares including one time that you will have to sign a legal form verifying that Sarah Emily is the same as Emily and that you are both those people; your parents wanted to call you Emily but Emily Sarah would make you ESP, so now you’re Sarah E., and in doctor’s waiting rooms and on the first day of school you’ve trained yourself to answer to Sarah even though you feel at best a distant connection to her as if she is a cousin or alter ego—this will be useful to you years from now when telemarketers call and ask for her—and at school growing up on the Texas-Mexico border lots of names got mispronounced, you aren’t alone in this, the Mexican teachers would call Jaime by the Spanish HY-may instead of what she said, JAY-mee, making her blush, and in the mouth of the white emcee at football games, lovely, slender Fátima became FAT-i-ma as she aced grand jetés across the field when the dance team arrived for halftime, but this time, you are not at home, you’re on your own at age fifteen at boarding school in New Hampshire, a place as foreign to you, even worldly, even well-travelled you, as medieval Japan, and why you left home is another story but the lesson you learn today is the story that will stick, cut much deeper than what you will learn in Calculus; no, you are far from South Texas, far from the town where everyone knows you and your parents and their bi-racial marriage and your siblings and your grandmother who insists she is a citizen, which she pronounces SEE-tee-zen, and where you move easily across the segregated streets because in a patriarchal world with a Catholic order what girl doesn’t think of herself as her father’s daughter, her family as her father’s line, so now when your new math teacher in this cold, New Hampshire classroom asks you for your last name, and you say Pérez and think yourself a Mexican, and with a question mark at the end she spells P-E-T-T-I-S and her name is Spruil Kilgore, which for all you know may be common in this world of duck boots, backward caps, and last names used as first names indicating good-old-boy New England roots, and you respond, no P-E-R-E-Z, and she responds, oh, you mean PEAR-ez, thereby renaming you, and remember, this is not about witness, it’s about whiteness, this lesson you will learn today, that you are not who you say you are or think you are, that without your father, your border, without your family history in this country that predates this country, its lines in the sand, its river dividers, its Mayflower, that here and almost everywhere in this world that is suddenly a lifetime away from your small home town where you’re known, you are hers, you are theirs to pronounce, because she’s looking at you, and you are white.

Emily Pérez is the author of the poetry collection House of Sugar, House of Stone and the chapbook Backyard Migration Route. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Diode, Borderlands and other journals. A CantoMundo fellow, she has received funding and recognition from the Artist Trust, Jack Straw Writers, Bread Loaf, Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and Summer Literary Seminars. She is a high school teacher in Denver, where she lives with her husband and sons. 


Sunday, March 19, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: no. 10

“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 

Mico-review:  Emmy Pérez, With the River on Our Face, University of Arizona Press, 2016
 

by Sheryl Luna


Emmy Pérez’s poem “El Paso ~ El Valle” migrates from El Paso in West Texas through New York and Navajo country through Afghanistan and Iraq to Hargill in South Texas. She writes,              
           
Every city is El Paso and every paso, a city where we smile and greet
                        kind neighbors who raise roosters and water tomato plants
            as someone o.d.’s near the canal behind our homes and I never saw
his face because I did not look enough beyond obvious beauty

A list of images also pays homage to El Paso’s poverty and beauty: refineries, bridges, the stench of shared sewage and peach trees.
The speaker also celebrates her own ancestry there.

           Where my grandmother, exiled from her father’s judgment, birthed ten
            children. Ysleta, from where my mother was born to her Mexicana mother
             and tejano father

She also expresses her own silence, her own pain and lessons in the same city and other places:
    
. . . Where I allow myself silence, where
  your humility is beautiful and brings pain. All the faces of humility in a city.
 Where I learned to love but not enough. Where I learned, at the end, that love
            is not fearing, El Paso, una herida abierta, como El Valle, como Navajo
        country. Santa Ana, L.A., Nueva York, where we have to be stronger to see
if we want to love.

The poem also clarifies what El Paso is not and is simultaneously.
                                                            … El Paso
            that is not Palestine. El Paso that is not Iraq, Afghanistan. El Paso in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

The poem then migrates to Hargill, which is another border town in the Texas southern valley. The speaker refers here to Gloria Anzaldúa merely as “Gloria.”
Vivid images fall and move through the poem: green parakeets, bobcats, blue herons, cacti blooming fuchsia flowers, cardinals in winter.
The poem moves from El Paso through El Paso to El Valle through El Valle and ends with a quote by Federico Garcia Lorca about what makes us all human:

                                                … El Valle where I’m teachable.
            Teachable by people like you who live their lives in order to love.           
               Because this is why many of us live our lives, but we don’t
                                    Stop working to notice.
                                       Pero yo ya no soy yo
                          
                                   ni mi casa es ya mi casa
  en El Paso, en El Valle, everywhere.

Sheryl Luna is the author of Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press), recipient of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and Seven (3: A Taos Press), finalist for the Colorado Book Award.  Recent work has appeared in Poetry, Saranac Review, Pilgrimage and Taos International Journal of Poetry and Art.

Friday, March 17, 2017

#WeComeFromEverything: #9

Francisco X. Alarcón and Juan Felipe Herrera

“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry &Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. 

During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.

Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas 

As In Migration as Journey

JFH’s homage to FXA

by Francisco Aragón


Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Walking(Tenochitlan, DF) with Francisco X. Alarcón, 1978”, braids two concepts: what I’m calling exterior journey, and what I’m calling interior journey. Early in his piece, we read:

We walk on tiny quadrants of consciousness.

The “we” is Herrera and Alarcón strolling through “downtown Mexico DF”. They’re on their way to visit Elias Nandino, “El Doctor poeta,” whose office is in “La Torre Metropolitana,”  “47 stories up above Tenochtitlan outside.” The walk these “two spirit wanderers” are on coincides with a major archaeological dig that started, as the title indicates, in 1978. The poem begins:

Coyolxauki
Escavations

Thus, the first image is: “archeologists” “ben[t] down,” “swishing/brushes uncovering her stone armature”—in reference to the female figure in Aztec mythology.

So we have Herrera and Alarcón’s exterior journey of walking past these archaeological “quadrants.” Through the study of these artifacts, after they’ve been unearthed, a particular human “consciousness” will be revealed, which is to say: archeologists will soon embark upon interior journeys—exploring and researching Aztec civilization through the study of its physical objects.

Having said that, the poem’s principal arc is Herrera and Alarcón experiencing a series of encounters while on their paseo: after Nandino, they “meet up with Arturo Villafuerte” who “says he has a column/in El Excelsior” and encourages the young Chicano escritores to “send him some pieces.”

Next, they “run into Ernesto Trejo/huffing it down San Juan de Letrán with his mini-series of poetry/chapbooks.”  That would be the late poet from Fresno, Ernesto Trejo, author of Entering a Life (Arte Público Press, 1990), who died before his time in 1991. In the poem, Trejo is 28 years old, two years younger than Herrera and four years older than Alarcón, making the three writers contemporaries of one another.

There’s something poignant about this: Juan Felipe Herrera migrating back in time in order to re-create, in the space of a poem, three young Chicanos coinciding in Mexico City, brimming with their particular passions, this dual gesture—journeying through time, journeying through space—unfolding before our eyes.

The next encounter is solely Herrera’s—an interior flashback:  “I saw Macario a few blocks from here in the/early 60’s searching for a hut to be able to bite into/an existential turkey leg…” Memory breeds memory: Herrera, as he’s recalling that 1978 walk, is also recalling his encounter with Macario further back in time, his mind suddenly alighting on this:

an existential turkey leg this is the life on the street poeta a poeta

These encounters, or rather, recalling these encounters, can, therefore, lead to insights that perhaps Herrera wasn’t cognizant of at the time. Perhaps some lessons are not learned when they are being lived; perhaps they are learned when memory summons them decades later.

Let’s pause for some editorial context: “Walking (Tenochitlan, DF) with Francisco X. Alarcón, 1978” is the first poem in, Soñadores: We Came to Dream (CantoHondo/DeepSong Books, 2016) edited by Odilia Galván Rodríguez—a commissioned anthology—an homage, if you will, to the late Francisco X. Alarcón, who died on January 15, 2015 at the age of 61. We can imagine, therefore, Herrera taking this occasion to perhaps finally commit to a poem that walk in 1978 with his beloved poet friend.

Further in the text, Alarcón and Herrera go on to meet with a Gustavo Saenz:

                                                                                in his neat bluish coat—
Francisco makes a deal
let’s publish a Chicana and Chicano edition of El Suplemento Literario
that we’ll edit for El Excelsior—What do you think Juan Felipe
la hacemos I say.
                                 we walk on we move we rap we eat
                              
Up until now, what I’ve been calling “encounters” have been the mentioning of particular names and their connection with some form of literary activity as this encuentro with Gustavo Saenz bears out.  The “encounter” that follows, however, breaks this pattern.

In fact, it’s the poem’s crescendo: It’s days after their walk and Herrera and Alarcón find themselves at “Editorial Katún here’s a/book on the life of Augustin Lara I think I’ll get it for Alejandro/Murguía…”

This “encounter” with the late Murguía stands out, first of all, because it’s not a literal one like the others; it takes place in the poet’s mind and heart. How Herrera describes him, how Herrera perceives Murguía’s project, how Herrera concludes the “encounter” by pondering the implications of Murguía’s project and vision—all of these things are the elements that make up the heart of the poem:

serrucho face his dark
melancholy jagged wooly skin his metaphysical attempt to stitch
everything that has been cut open back together again—that
cannot be stitched back together again like we are Azteca
Humpty Dumpties in the Promised Land Francisco I say

wait a minute—stop

why don’t you write about your life ok?
why don’t you write about your love alone world when
you come to Mexico by yourself that intensity that night
after night on fire why don’t you write about your
real stuff (Why don’t I)

Which brings us back to the poem’s first encounter—with Elias Nandino. Herrera had designated him not only as “El Doctor poeta,” but also as “El Doctor poeta/de canciones de amor oscuro (my emphasis). This is no accident.

Elias Nandino was a crucial role model for the 24-year-old Alarcón. A renowned poet often associated with the poetic group called “Los Contemporáneos,” Nandino would have been 78 years old in 1978. In him, Alarcón got to know a distinguished man of letters who lived his life as an openly gay man in Mexico City. Alarcón had recounted to me many times what a transformative role Nandino had played in his life—providing him with a model on how to assume his own identity as an openly gay Chicano poet in the early 1980s.

Juan Felipe Herrera, in effect, is adding another layer to this particular swath of both Alarcón’s and his own literary biography. He seems to be suggesting that one of the results of their time together in Mexico City in 1978 was the resolve to take on, as subject matter, their particular “truths.” It’s as if, until this moment, Herrera’s and Alarcón’s literary aspirations lacked, perhaps, some focus. But after 1978 and after—in Herrera’s case, it seems—his pointed reflection on the ambition of Alejandro Murguía’s literary vocation (“his metaphysical attempt to stitch/everything that has been cut open back together again”), Herrera has an epiphany of sorts (“wait a minute—stop”), one he shares with Alarcón in a kind of advice-giving way (“why don’t you write about…?”), though he also implicates himself (“(Why don’t I)”).

Herrera, with his mention of Nandino’s “amor oscuro” at the beginning of the poem, and his mention of Alarcón’s “love alone world” with its “intensity” and “fire”—in short, his “real stuff”—seems to be urging Alarcón not to mute those aspects of himself that may not have been acceptable in the Chicano literary canon of the time. There’s a certain poetic justice in this thought: one of the “real” and enduring subjects of Juan Felipe Herrera’s oeuvre has been the Chicano Movement and its communities.  It’s heartening, therefore, to see that in 1978 Herrera fully embraced the notion of his fellow poet friend not mincing or parsing his words when it came to writing about being an openly gay Chicano poet.

Part of Francisco X. Alarcón’s legacy was having adopted Elias Nandino’s unapologetic stance, where homoeroticism was concerned. One of the results was that Alarcón, in turn, became a mentor and role model to the next generation of gay Chicano/Latino poets, including, for the example, the poets he convened and introduced in the spring of 2002 in New Orleans at the AWP reading, “Boca a Boca,” which included Rigoberto González, the late Rane Arroyo, Eduardo C. Corral, and myself.

Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, entering its homestretch, mentions Francisco X. Alarcón by name (“Francisco”) no less than three times—in the last 15 lines of this 75+ line piece:

Francisco keeps walking
*
wave to Francisco who stays I’ll see you later when our
paths cross again…
*
Francisco dissolves in the multiple audiences

First: the image of our main character perennially (“keeps”) putting one foot in front of the other forefronts the piece’s multiple manifestations of “migration.”

Second: the piece’s use of the imperative (“wave to Francisco”) accentuates the poem’s invitation to, literally, participate (“wave…”) in what I’m going to call the poem’s storyscape.  But it also insinuates the following: in 1978 Herrera is taking leave of Francisco and anticipates seeing him back at Stanford University, where they met (“I got/to head back to Stanford somehow”). And yet: Juan Felipe Herrera has written this poem after Alarcón has died. I don’t know his views on the so-called “afterlife,” but one may read into this passage that Herrera is aware that he, too, will one day join the realm that Elias Nandino, Ernesto Trejo, Alejandro Murguía and, most recently, Alarcón, currently occupies (“I’ll see you later…”). Becoming one with our muertos.

Third: given the circumstances of this poem’s composition, this passage prompts one to ponder how Francisco X. Alarcón lives on, not only in his work but also in the lives of those of us who loved him—his “multiple audiences.”

In the end, “Walking (Tenochitlan, DF) with Francisco X. Alarcón, 1978” becomes its own “quadrant of consciousness”—a work that invites us to an archaeological dig of letters, each of us embarking on our respective interior journeys, interior migrations.

December 2016, Torquay, U.K.

Soñadores: We Came to Dream, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, ed., CantoHondo/DeepSong Books, 2016.

Francisco Aragón is the son of Nicaraguan immigrants. He is the author of, Puerta del Sol (2005) and, Glow of Our Sweat (2010), as well as editor of, The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (2007). He has work forthcoming in Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States (2017). In 2003, he joined the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies(ILS), where he founded Letras Latinas—a member of The Poetry Coalition. Since 2013, in addition to directing Letras Latinas, he teaches a course on Latino poetry on campus in the fall, and a poetry writing workshop in Washington, D.C. in the spring, where Letras Latinas often collaborates with local institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress. He is a native of San Francisco, CA.