Poetry of Resistance

An excerpt from the book edited by Odilia Galván Rodríguez and the late Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcón

The first time the Tucson Weekly talked with Chicano poet and teacher Francisco Alarcón he was on fire—a poet-warrior inspired by what took place on April 20, 2010, when nine Latino students chained themselves to the Arizona State Capitol's main doors in protest of SB 1070, the state's racial-profiling "papers please" law.

That was the beginning of Poets Responding to SB 1070, a Facebook forum that allowed hundreds of poets—well-known and emerging—to voice protest over the law and then later HB 2281, the state's anti-Mexican-American studies law that dismantled Tucson Unified School District's classes and department.

The Facebook page still exists, just like parts of the law that first inspired it, but what's also emerged is a collection of poetry published in January by the UA Press—Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice—carefully edited with love by Alarcon and his friend and fellow poet and activist Odilia Galván Rodríguez.

The first copy arrived at Alarcón's home in California the day after he died on Friday, Jan. 15, but Galván Rodríguez says he knew this special project was in the works and that the first book was making its way home. The poet, diagnosed with stomach cancer in November 2015, remained his usual smiling self throughout those two months, she says.

This weekend, during Tucson Festival of Books, Alarcón's work, life and the book will be celebrated on Saturday, March 12 in a panel moderated by Tucson poet Logan Phillips with Galván Rodríguez and Tucson poet Enrique Garcia Naranjo (and myself). A reading of the book also takes place on Sunday, March 13 on the UA campus moderated by Galvan Rodríguez with contributors Elena Diaz Bjorkquist, Andrea Hernandez Holm, yours truly and UA Mexican-American assistant professor Roberto Rodriguez (for more information, visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org).

The book features 80 writers, and keeps with Alarcon's philosophy of recognizing and helping new and emerging writers. The names in the book go from writers like Luis Alberto Urrea to others who've never been published before yet inspired by the Poets Responding to SB 1070 Facebook page and its mission.

"The issues Francisco was concerned with had to do with humanity and we should all be so lucky to follow his footsteps," Galván Rodríguez says. "At first, I could not imagine a world without him in it but now I know he has not left us. He lives in the hearts of all who struggle for justice."

Galván Rodríguez says she had known Alarcon for more than 30 years, and when the Facebook page began to take-off he needed help and asked her to step in as a moderator. Together they asked other poets from other states to help moderate work that would then be published first on La Bloga, a blog that covers Chicano culture and literature.

"Francisco knew I was a long-time activist since a very young woman," she says. With everything going on in Arizona, both of them and others wanted to do something. "I think we were a bit surprised at the reaction and how many poems we received every day."

Diaz Bjorkquist and Hernandez Holm are two Tucson poets and writers who stepped in to moderate Arizona poet contributions the first few years. Alarcon's passing has been difficult, but both are thrilled that his work will be recognized at the festival and that the book—a labor of love—is out.

"One of the things that happens in countries where there is political strife, we know the saying is that they come for the teachers and poets first because they tell the truth," Diaz Bjorkquist says. "Francisco told the truth and he did it in such a way that encouraged us."

His legacy, she says, was his smile and how he encouraged everyone to write, but especially the work he did with children. As a teacher, his work with youth was something she particularly admired.

"We were blessed to have him as long as we did. He traveled all over the world. (Poets Responding) came at a time when I saw that the pen was mightier then the sword. I'm getting older. I couldn't physically be out there carrying signs, but I could do this. It opened a whole way to protest."

Diaz Bjorkquist, whose book Suffer Smoke was one of dozens of books pulled from Mexican-American studies classes and effectively banned from the classroom when the state came down on TUSD, is the only Arizona author to make it on that banned list. Poets Responding became personal.

"Yeah, it was a badge of honor. Suffer Smoke is about Chicanos in Morenci, a mining town. The fact that is was banned says that the state didn't care about these peoples' lives."

Hernandez Holm, who worked with Diaz Bjorkquist as a moderator, says she first met Alarcón at a floricanto she participated in. She remembers his energy and how he talked about the importance of poetry in social justice.

"He had a way of making it live and validating for me the way that words could have that role," she says.

During the public height of SB 1070 and the anti-Mexican-American studies law, different social and cultural venues tended to turn to people outside of Arizona for comment. Poets Responding was a way to make sure Arizona poets, were represented here at home and had voice in the commentary, she says.

While moderating the Facebook page, Hernandez Holm says there were more than 1,000 submissions. To see that labor of love go from an online presence into a book published by the UA Press, is beautiful. "I'm happy to see it be born. This idea originated several years ago."

Hernandez Holm says she feels lucky the work is celebrated, after all, this year an Iranian poet was sentenced to death for speaking out through their work. "Freedom to me means we use our voices in this context. We can do that freely. That others do the same and put their lives at risk, we shouldn't forget them."

Poetry of Resistance

Voices for Social Justice

Edited by Francisco X. Alarcón and Odilia Galván Rodríguez


They Carry Butterflies in Their Hands

It is raining. The pickup slams and careens through the Mojave. There is a blast of bullets. Innocents go down. There's a chant to the corn goddess. A man kisses his father's hand, the father who worked for him all his life and never expected anything back. And there are bulldozers, abrazos, and silence. You heart must be polished to continue. Border dogs on leashes are snapping at your child's shoulder in your own home. Marigolds appear across that ancient migration route. Turtle Island holds onto you. Something rooted from your heart down to the red bones of earth sustains you—petals, cottonwoods, sagebrush. The fragrance of xocolatl—then a baton. All the names come out of you. You return, somehow, to your land. It is yours because it knows you—intimately.

To write the first paragraph, I gathered words from the verse of the eighty-eight poets in this magnificent collection. You can sense the unity of the voices and the bitter honey of their songs—across time, terrain, family, loss, brutality, and transcendence. Against all odds, each one, from various cultural places, holds hands with the other. The poems—even in their poetic form—stand tall. They are calls to ancient deities and day-to-day families. Along the way there are stops, sacred visions, and a deep acknowledgment of the severe tasks of resistance, that is, marching, witnessing, and facing death and pointed, armed, and fanged beings with compact orders to attack.

Susan Deer Cloud asks, "Will you ever know how it feels to love . . . ?" Nancy Aidé González notices "La Virgen de las Calles . . . / full of yearning." It is in this manner that each poem severs border wires and installations in whatever shapes and materials they may appear. Borders can be overcome with the revolutionary tenderness of poems en Resistencia. Listen: "I am the dew on the cool morning," says Hedy García Treviño. Jabez W. Churchill envisions a trek of "five hundred miles of taquerias." How can suffering and ill-shaped laws be overcome? Listen, listen to Jorge Tetl Argueta speak of the children—"They carry butterflies in their hands."

This anthology, Poetry of Resistance, edited by Francisco X. Alarcón and Odilia Galván Rodríguez, is an incredible assemblage of voices and letters that proves that collective poetry is the answer to the violence-filled policies that increasingly face us in these times.

Open this book of leaves if you do not believe me.

Juan Felipe Herrera

U.S. Poet Laureate

Para Los Nueve del Capitolio/For the Capitol Nine

Para los nueve estudiantes arrestados/To the nine students arrested

en el Capitolio Estatal de Arizona por/at the Arizona State Capitol

protestar la ley SB 1070 el 20 de abril de 2010/protesting SB 1070 on April 20, 2010



y carnalitas/y carnalitas


y hermanas:/and sisters:

desde lejos/from afar

podemos oír/we can hear

sus corazones latir/your heartbeats

ellos son/they are

los tambores/the drums

de la Tierra/of the Earth

nuestra gente/our people

les sigue de cerca/follow closely

sus pasos/your steps

como guerreros/as warriors

de la justicia/of justice

y la paz/and peace

enfrentan/you take on

la Bestia/the Beast

del odio/of hatred

el uso/the unlawful

discriminatorio/police enforcement

de la policía/of discrimination

se encadenan/you chain yourselves

a las puertas/del to the doors of

capitolio estatal/the State Capitol

para que el terror/so that terror

no se escape hacia/will not leak out

nuestras calles/to our streets

sus voces/your voices

sus acciones/your actions

su valentía/your courage

no nos las pueden/can’t be taken

ya arrebatar/away from us

ni encarcelar/and put in jail

ustedes son nueve/you are nine

jóvenes guerreros/young warriors

como nueve luceros/like nine sky stars

son la esperanza/you are the hope

los mejores sueños/the best dreams

de nuestra nación/of our nation

sus rostros/your faces

son radiantes/are radiant

como el Sol/as the Sun

y romperán/they will break

esta negra noche/this dark night

para un nuevo día/for a new day

sí, carnalitas/yes, carnalitas

y carnalitos:/and carnalitos:

todos nuestros/all our sisters

hermanas y hermanos/all our brothers

no necesitan papeles/need no papers

para probar/to prove once

de una vez/and for all

”somos humanos/ “we are humans

como ustedes son—/ just like you are—

no somos criminales”/ we are not criminals”

nuestra petición es:/our plea comes to:

”¡NO a la criminalización!/“NO to criminalization!

¡SÍ a la legalización!/YES to legalization!”

Before the World Wakes


In the stillness of early morning

before the pale rays of dawn

hearken the first glorious glow,

Mother Nature is in a state of flux,

her energy stable.

Free of disordered vibrations,

my mind remains in the land

of slumber, although awake.

Deep sleep washed away impurities

accumulated from yesterday.

My mental, physical, emotional potential

is heightened to meditate in this peaceful,

energetically charged in-between time.

I connect in intimate fashion

with the Divine.

Light, air, energy flow around me,

speak in hushed tones of the day to come,

set my mood for a serene, fulfilling day.

In the glorious glow of morning

I wake as the world awakes.

Embracing the joy of being,

I draw upon the unique energy of

daybreak for comfort, creativity, vigor.

I feel blessed with the gift of

another day of life.

The sun’s ascension inspires me, as it

grows golden to the birds’ serenade.

My vitality returns as I become

one with the stirring of other beings

rubbing sleep from their eyes.

I greet the sun, the new day

in the traditional ancient way,

like my grandmother before me,

and her mother before her.

I call out in the four directions.

First to the north, tauhi, tahui,

tahui, tahui.

Then to the east, tauhi, tahui,

tahui, tahui,

To the south, tauhi, tahui,

tahui, tauhui,

and to the west, tauhi, tauhi.

tahui, tahui.

I return to the center,

open my arms, embrace the world.

I am centered, my destiny

not yet written,

there is nothing I cannot do.

Arizona Lamentation


We were happy here before they came.

This was always Odin’s garden,

a pure white place.

Cradle of Saxons,

birthplace of Norsemen.

No Mexican was ever born here

until their racial hatred and envy

forced us to build a border fence.

But they kept coming.

There were never Apache villages here—

we never saw these Navajos, Papagos,

Yaquis. It’s a lie. Until their wagons

kept coming and coming. And their soldiers.

We worshipped at the great god’s tree.

We had something good here.

We had family values and clean sidewalks.

Until those savages kept coming, took our dream

and colored it.

AZ SB 1070

Olmecan Eyes


Olmecan eyes gaze into the future,

a path of light piercing the forest,

heavy lidded with the past, ancient

sorrows carved into stone. With rain,

the present leaks into now, into the DNA

of fallen stars, the mystery of oceans,

the settled silt of settling into culture.

Olmecan eyes reborn. The infant

stone unfurling in our navels.

Another civilization reconquers

the wilderness of today. Sun devouring

Earth, we are shadows of the way

we were, beneath the shifting planets,

the comets, the desolate inconsolable moon.

Into the history of obsidian blades,

a human heart beats on the plate,

the slate of our division thinning

into someone’s blood. The blood of

The People surging still beneath

the pursed lips, the pierced tongue,

the sudden pulse. We are The People

still. Our constitution stolen

from us in the fear. We rise, not

vengeful, but full of the peace

of knowing, our present tense.

A Ceremony for Reclaiming Language

especially for Casie Cobos and Gabriela Ríos


our homelands remember us

they raise themselves up

to mend our tongues

remove fingers of conquistadors and

governors from bruised necks

as you enter

into this ceremony

breathe phrases

like copal smoke

let syllables strengthen

your blood like nopales

wear words

around your throat

a gift of turquoise and gold


we are here to become elders

and ancestors who teach

our children to

heal the world

as you enter into this ceremony

say a prayer

offer tobacco

remember each morning

we enter into spinning

light of a galaxy that

loves us

hidden words will sprout

in your dreams

like maíz opening

into the rich brown soil

of Anáhuac

as your enter into this ceremony

mourn for what was stolen

smuggle your tongue

across their imaginary border

and laugh

let this language suture

your heart

each word whispers

a story

through your lips

weaves a basket

that carries

a mending


Border Inquest Blues


at what crossing

could my poems

become bread

or water to offer

a people

the thousands

who cross so many

miles of misery¬

perched on trains

like birds

with clipped wings

who only fly

in their dreams

but decide to search out

the promise of a better life

at any cost

which of my

careful word choices

make a difference

to scorched tongues

that can no longer

even form a whisper

let alone cry out for help

in a desolate desert

there are no

flights on 747s

for a people

with only prayers

without papers

thick with words

that legitimize them

in an illegal world

full of legalized criminals

who form tempests

to tease out fear, and who

year after year

think up new ways to hate

at the same time take

even a person’s last breath

if it benefits their profits

at what checkpoint

do my words become

more than arrows

sharp in their bite

or mere criticisms of the “Right”

still not hitting the target

or putting an end

to this war

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