“The Jolly Chicano Poet A Chicano Poet Remembered: Francisco X. Alarcón (d. 2016)”
by Agustin Medina, Jr.
Larger than life Both in girth and spirit
He lived his life as a poem A poem without boundaries
Even his poetry book titles Eran preciosos: Mariposas sin fronteras
He believed a poem was never complete
It took death to provide a final stanza To his own poetic journey
A progenitor of much fine poetry
His verse landed on the page Filtered through a Chicano lens
His style was eclectic
Using any form that conveyed The content of his soul
His verse favored exploring Chicano culture Mesoamerican history and Latino identity
Most of all, he was a progenitor of bilingual children’s poetry He proclaimed such poetry his crowning achievement
He thought children natural poets And encouraged them to versify
Gay and married He felt an outlier
Gay and Chicano He had to tread lightly
But he approached life’s dilemmas with doses of humor Such as daily “thanking God” he was an atheist
On his death bed, he allowed his priest brother to give him last rites “If you keep it short”
When his mother heard he had agreed to take communion She exclaimed: “Does he know what he’s eating?”
Let us nurture the glory of the Chicano poet, too few in number Select a poem by the poet Alarcón and shout it out to the world
Do this in remembrance of him
Agustin Medina, Jr. is a semi-retired attorney whose affiliation with Chicano activism goes back to the 1960s when he was part of a circle of Chicano students at UCLA and at Stanford University who established the first Chicano college student organizations, UMAS/MECHA. For 28 years, he has served as General Counsel to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on a pro bono basis. He has also mentored several Latino youth during their educational journeys to college and graduate work. He continues to be passionate about social justice issues as concerns the Latino community. In addition to his immersion in poetry and literature, to clear the mind, he engages in mountaineering, canyoneering, rock climbing and hiking.
I want to hold my food Feel it with my fingers The texture on my skin Before I taste it I want to feel The oily tortilla of my taco al pastor I want to feel that rough tostada de ceviche That loses toppings As I crunch it
I want a warm tamal in my hand Salsa y queso y crema Dripping off the sides I want to eat that birria right: Con tortillas, en tacos, quesabirria Consomé dripping off my chin I want that chile verde in the gorditas And on the sopes to end up All over my fingers So I can lick it off I want to mop the mole off my plate With a warm tortilla
My daughter wants to eat salad or eggs With her fingers? Enjoy Roll up a pancake and eat it Like a taco? Go for it Hold those little trees of broccoli Pick up those peas and frijoles one by one Like they’re gems Touch that food, shape it, arrange it Some call it “playing with food” I call it “art” and my mom let me do it Orange Mexican rice teokalli Little flat-topped pyramids de arroz Were my recurring sculptures
Table manners are for tables Not for people who know How to experience their food Long before it gets in their mouth
Some would judge my way of eating But so what if my elbows Are on the table At least I’m not putting My codo on the minimum wage
So what if I slurp my caldo de pollo At least I’m not slurping All the profit off someone else’s labor
So what if I lick my fingers, smack my lips At least I’m not licking or kissing Anybody’s anything para quedar bien
So what if I play with my food At least I don’t play With other people’s lives
So what if I burp It’s better than talking hot air Making promises I won’t keep
There are some things I’ll never know Like why I’ve never Eaten enchiladas con las manos – yet Or why there’s a limit to how high I can pile the pozole on my spoon
But what I do know is that When my napkin stays on the table You can bet I’m leaning over my food, breathing it, Holding it, savoring it, The way food was meant to be handled
I leave nothing on my plate Snatch up those bits of carnitas Every last crumb of milanesa Belongs in my mouth And I’ll enjoy the leftovers con salsa Mañana
That’s how to handle comida ¡Con las manos!
Crunch those buñuelos Let the crumbs of criticism fall On a tapete of repurposed judgment Reduced hierarchy Recycled capitalism
Elizabeth Jiménez Montelongo is a visual artist, poet, and facilitator. Elizabeth's work is informed by her Indigenous ancestry, Mesoamerican philosophy, Mexika & Mixtec art, Mexican culture, Chicano history, and her experiences as a woman. Her paintings and sculptures have been exhibited across the United States and her poetry is published widely, including in print and online journals, and in anthologies such as: Nos pasamos de la raya/We Crossed the Line (2017), Azahares (2020), and Harvard’s PALABRITAS (2020). She was 2021 Creative Ambassador of the San José Office of Cultural Affairs. She is a Board Member of Poetry Center San José and Editor of La Raíz Magazine. www.ejmontelongo.com
Three poems from City on the Second Floor with review and short interview with poet Matt Sedillo
L.A. is Full of Pigs
Los Angeles is falling apart In the streets, in the suburbs In the wind In a barely kept Hollywood bathroom Wheezing, vomiting, coughing up blood The past few days, these past few years I have spread myself across this sprawl And now fear this drive may kill me May kill us all and I wander Over to general hospital Between whose walls desperation wears in high concentration upon the faces of the shopworn And prematurely ill alike as they await upon news of illness they cannot afford to have Survival without insurance This may take a while Los Angeles Is full of untold misery A homeless man sleeps next to me and I can smell the years of hard distance between who he is now And who he may have been And all that stands between him and the bitter wind Is chance, is the kindness of a night nurse who will let him sleep in peace Los Angeles is full of good people Who from time to time Can turn a blind eye To killer policy And I wonder how many more bounced checks, free clinics, carry cash And leave the account in the negative Stand between me and him, me and the bitter wind and if so Where would I go from Venice to San Francisco There is an outright war on the homeless A war on the dispossessed, there are fewer and fewer options They got shelters for women and children, all inadequate But for me just man up homeboy To that concrete pillow To that cardboard blanket And freeze your ass to death Yes, this city will leave you to die On the same stretch of sidewalk where banks stretch into the sky And I wonder as even now skid row Is being gentrified As this city As this system As the pigs Push people Past poverty Past hunger Past homelessness Towards the very edge of existence On Skid Row Where all the so-called complexities of an economy Are laid bare, where the rich are literally stacked upon the poor Los Angeles Is full of grotesque absurdity Especially on skid row Where they spend millions Annually policing the misery of people with nowhere to go Because when your pockets are empty And you aint got nothing And change is just not coming There is no real difference Between a booming metropolis and a barren desert And the world of money Passes by you Passes through you As though you Were just part Of the scenery Protected in the knowledge They are serviced by pigs Who speak the language of violence The language Of the nightstick The language Of untold misery That will beat you for begging Beat you for sleeping Beat you for breathing Beat you For doing whatever it is you need to do To survive the night In the bitter wind Los Angeles Is full of pigs
The rich, well they're not like you and me They see an opportunity and they grab it reach for the stars And they, put ‘em in their pocket Company stays in the red But they're backed by the government Snort the public dime into lines of pure profit Research and development
The rich, well they're a different breed Champagne wishes and caviar dreams Thoroughbred stallions, quarter billion mansions on the sea Deepwater Horizon Blood diamonds Golden parachutes Silicon messiahs Feasting on endangered species Served on silver platters in winter palaces carved from the tips of icebergs Six-figure charters Vulture capital Million-dollar cufflinks plucking life like an apple Insured by suicide nets Lifestyles of the criminally negligent But you haven't lived Until you've launched a car into space for no fucking reason Now that's what I call freedom
The rich, well here's how it is Dollars and cents Trademark and rent Facts and figures Lines on a ledger Derivatives and debt Building the future Increasing productivity Union busting back To the hundred-hour work week Trimming the fat Producing monopolies With real money shortages and bets And that my friend is how the rich stay rich While the rest, make poor decisions And it's pure ecstasy Living in the lap of luxury Pushing pharmaceuticals At the markup The market Will bear your body To its altar At a life-or-death bargain The gospel Of wealth Cause it is what it is And that's all it’s ever been The less we spend The more we keep
You see the rich And the poor Well, they're just like you and me Two hands Two feet The sky The sea And everything between One heart that beats And the time To make the most of it So, you'll find no sympathy Reaching into these deep pockets All we ever asked was our fair share And God damn it, that's all of it So, while you're out in the streets screaming for peace and justice We’re sleeping in satin sheets dreaming free and guiltless over oceans and tariffs liquidating pensions then off to bid on porcelain and portraits at billion dollar auctions You know you need us You know we're selling your secrets You know you still send us DNA kits Watching the puppets On television Debate freedom free speech Fascism, democracy while we reach into the earth And fuel the economy With space stations Yes, space stations Hydrating the red planet We’re gonna survive this lava pit So you got pots and pans We got deeds and plans Chopping down rainforest Colonizing the moon We’re the rich, who the fuck are you We’ll privatize the water supply Then copyright the tears Falling From Your Eyes Burn it all down What the hell you talking about The icecaps are already melting You wanna start some shit Eat the rich We're already killing your kids One carbon footprint One gas house emission One oil rig One naval ship One free Trade Agreement at a time And we'll get away with it too Nothing we say or do Is ever held against us Haven't you been paying attention We’re rich
I grew up on television and so did my parents I Love Lucy Lied to them sweetly America's Favorite redhead Desires suppressed In separate beds Censors rest Assured Everything in good taste Everything in its proper place Every traumatic episode Ends with the threat of Ricky's hand Never far from Lucy's face Beaming in glorious black and white Wrong and right Plot lines shade out the gray On John Wayne's Shining silver City on a hill Of guns and butter Where every School child's desk Doubles as bomb shelter Praying to the altar of the unquestioned So Pledge your allegiance Seal your documents And lock and load Your freedom Because it is not free Now fall to your knees And praise be To the only God In which we trust The Atom The Manhattan Hiroshima Nagasaki The nuclear family Nuclear testing In the nuclear age Gave way To nuclear waste That's me See I grew up In the eighties Morning in America Ronald Reagan And Mr. Belvedere Fresh at my door Telling me life was More than mere survival That I Might live the good life Yet when my time came Homer Simpson Peter Griffin Al Bundy Were all lying in wait To convince me I could raise a family In a two story On the single income Of a shoes salesman They lied And I cry Not for myself But for this oncoming generation Of IPAD kids On the Hulu and Netflix Where you pick your poison But it rots your mind Just the same See them at cafes Sit sipping Job seeking Asking the net For deeper meaning Who am I Where do I belong Of what use can I be In days such as these Kids born of go go gadgets Wired to networks Connected Directed To the latest trends Surf the web In search of themselves No different From medieval serfs Waiting on the bells Of the Catholic Church For the latest in Holy writ Holy script Holy this Since The golden rule Of Pharaohs and Caesars Romulus and Remus Akbar and Alexander Xerxes and Hammurabi Since the days of scribes And the books of Kings Since they from on high Convinced us down below That we Ever Needed Their Code Of law To tell us We were free
Reading by Matt Sedillo and short interview.
Cutting Noise, a review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez
Why should you read City on the Second Floor by Matt Sedillo to hear something anti-greed or anti-colonial? Can't you got to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to see posts counting coup with the may or may not be true and the armchair warriors armed with glibness and not even one sentence memes, instant espresso shots of thought?
Poetry can cut through the noise. Needed now more than ever. Poetry can serve us Chicanos as it did in the Chicano Movement and before, our activism and words melded. The earth is dying, working people are abused and it’s the rich driving it with their pharaonic greed. It’s a message that needs to be believed acted upon and repeated. City on the Second Floor has the tradition, has the words and message and cuts the distraction.
Sedillo can see us. He knows we are entertained to inaction and death with the violins of streamed shows as the world burns in “Hammurabi”: “Of IPAD kids On the Hulu and Netflix Where you pick your poison But it rots your mind Just the same See them at cafes Sit sipping Job seeking Asking the net For deeper meaning”
We, our bodies and minds, are commodified to the same kind of internet glibness, smiling and disposable as he points out in “Post”: “Smiling at your service to gig economy Side hustle, millennial, post industrial standard Hire me as an adjunct Fire me as contingent Into a city I cannot afford to live in Tell me my credit score Better yet, tell me yours Promise me the world, then show me the door”
More than exploited, we are commodified and vilified so the system for the rich can keep eating us. Keep us inactive and watching the television we grew up on. In the “The Rich” he lays the destruction of this planet at their feet, they escape culpability, they don’t even have to look at the misery down below as they live on “the second floor.”
Sedillo says they even want to colonize the heavens in the poem “The Sky.” I love the poem as it mentions our ancestors, compares the “beautiful brown mobile proletariat native to the continent” and the connection and guidance from the monarchs. These butterflies are like hummingbirds, messengers from the underworld, and masses of them traverse California and more of Turtle Island. These creatures are threatened by the ruining of the environment as tourists and towns commodify them, not listening to their message in their journey:
They are dying, we are dying.
It’s the Space Force Sedillo mentions vs butterflies. The suffocation of the void vs breathing.
We get a lot of witnessing of trauma in the literature of raza; we get the much more needed denouncing and recrimination in Sedillo’s work. No settler is slumming his way through these words for titillation of viewing traumatic experiences. Sedillo isn’t smiling. This isn’t a sideshow for masters. This is not Taco Tuesday.
Support this poet. Poetry is spellcraft and ritual to heal and name what must be changed. Read City on the Second Floor. Cut the noise.
Born in El Sereno, California in 1981, Matt Sedillo writes from the vantage point of a second generation Chicano born in an era of diminishing opportunities and a crumbling economy. His writing—a fearless, challenging and at times even confrontational blend of humor, history and political theory--is a reflection of those realities.
Breve historia de un grito / Brief History of a Cry by Rafael Jesús González
Breve historia de un grito
Trescientos años después de la conquista se alzó el grito de dolores, grito de un pueblo adolorido por independencia del imperio. Veinte y unos años después de ser independiente México perdió mas de la mitad de sus tierras al más joven impero del norte. Y expulsando otra invasión y sufridas otras tiranías se hizo por revolución el grito dolorido. De eso hace cien y más años. ¿Qué puede decir una historia del hambre, la sed, el dolor, la pena, el sufrir de la que se hace? La injusticia echa raíces muy largas. Deshacerse de un yugo no es ser libre, deshacerse de un yugo no es lo mismo que lograr la justicia. La lucha sigue. Pues ¡adelante! mexican@s, chican@s, adelante mundo. La lucha sigue hasta la justicia. ¡Hasta la justicia sigue la lucha!
Rafael Jesús González, Prof. Emeritus of literature and creative writing, was born and raised biculturally/bilingually in El Paso, Texas/Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, and taught at University of Oregon, Western State College of Colorado, Central Washington State University, University of Texas El Paso (Visiting Professor of Philosophy), and Laney College, Oakland, California where he founded the Dept. of Mexican & Latin-American Studies. Also visual artist, he has exhibited in the Oakland Museum of California, the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, and others in the U.S. and Mexico. Nominated thrice for a Pushcart prize, he was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and Annenberg CPB for his writing in 2003. In 2013 he received a César E. Chávez Lifetime Award and was honored by the City of Berkeley with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th Annual Berkeley Poetry Festival 2015. He was named the first Poet Laureate of Berkeley in 2017. Visit http://rjgonzalez.blogspot.com/.
"Pilgrim" and "Carved Over" from Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo with Review
Pilgrim See, some were born to summer homes And palatial groves Where pain was only to ever unfold From the pages of Secret Gardens Where the Red Fern Grows But not I See, I come from the stock Of starry-eyed astronauts Who greet the night sky With big dreams and wide eyes Always Running Down the Devil’s Highway Through Occupied America On the way back to The House on Mango Street And all those other books You didn’t want us to read Raised on handball Off the back wall Of a panaderia Born East the river Post Mendez vs Westminster One generation removed From the redlines And diplomas signed That those dreams In that skin Need not apply See, I come from struggle And if my story offends you That is only ‘cause you made the mistake of seeking your reflection In my self-portrait See, this Well this may not be about you Because while some were born To the common core Whose reflected faces Graced the pages Of doctrines to discover And ages to be explored Where old world hardships Crashed against new shores New England New Hampshire New Jersey New York For others pushed off Turtle island Aztlan Do not call this brown skin immigrant Child of the sun Son of the conquest Mexicano blood Running through the veins Of the eastside of Los Angeles Do not tell him In what native tongue His song would best be sung Do not tell me Who I am ‘Cause I was raised just like you Miseducated in some of those Very same schools Off lessons and legends Of honest injuns and Christian pilgrims And a nation of immigrants All united in freedom That is until they pulled aside My white friend Pointed directly at me And said “Scott I judge you by the company you keep And you spend your time with this” And that’s the same old story since 1846 The adventures of Uncle Sam The stick-up man Hey wetback Show me your papers Now give me your labor The Melting Pot Was never meant for the hands That clean it The American dream Has always come at the expense Of those who tucked it in And you don’t know that ‘Cause you don’t teach it Could write you a book But you won’t read it So you know what This is about you And 1492 And the treaty of Guadalupe California missions And Arizona schools And these racists That try to erase us As we raise their kids In cities that bear our names But you’re going to learn Something today ‘Cause from Ferdinand To minuteman From Arpaio To Alamo From Popol Vuh To Yo Soy Joaquin To the Indian that still lives in me From Mexico 68 To the missing 43 They tried to bury us They didn’t know we were seeds From Cananea mine To Delano strike From the Plan De Ayala Emiliano Zapata Joaquin Murrieta Las Adelitas Brown Berets And Zapatistas From Richard Nixon To the Third Napoleon From Peckinpah To Houston From Lone Star Republic To Christopher Columbus All the way down To Donald fucking Trump We didn’t cross the borders The borders crossed us Who you calling immigrant Pilgrim?
Carved Over Draw a map Line the sand Carve the desert Act on land Amend it Eminent domain Indefinite detention Private prisons Public referendum Gentrification Naturalization Americanization Forced sterilization Make America Great Again Mexico will pay The hunt for Murrieta The hunt for Pancho Villa John Pershing’s slaughter of the innocents A severed head Touring California museums Becomes Zorro Becomes the Wild Bunch Becomes whitewash This American Life Experience Its imagination If you can dream it You can see it And if you can see it You can build it And if you build it You can take it And if they resist Manifest a cruelty So complete That for generations They will do it to themselves Build a city Draw its borders Patrol its districts Add silence to injury Insult without memory Protect these borders From language and culture Taco trucks And Dora the Explorer The country is changing And you know it It’s simple mathematics And you know it You have kept us weak By keeping us confused Your grandchildren Will speak Spanglish In the neighborhood You grew up in Greeting their friends On the corner Of your childhood And cherished memories Under the lamplight And faded midst This historic site Of your first kiss Where you learned To sink Before you learned to swim Where you And she Carved your names to trees And promised each other Forever But Memories fade Neighborhoods change And your names will be carved over And there is nothing You can do about it And you know this too So when Donald Trump Says drug dealers and rapists And Kelly Osbourne jumps in To correct him No Donald Those people are just here to clean our shit When you Sit so comfortably Speak so freely About a group of people Who are somehow everywhere Yet at the same time No one Hold your tongue We are far closer than you know
Get Mad and Mow
Review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez We Chicanos still need words to express our occupied experience even after 173 years. Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo has those words, slings out the curses to whomever has it coming. That necessary verbal retaliation of humanity that brown bodies and minds need. Social justice and history books are great, but we live in and by poetry. I’m a Xicano, these words are for me, speak for me. I am impressed how much work Chicano art accomplishes: our art is functional. Sedillo’s Mowing Leaves of Grass lives up to this. You may find yourself in the work, in this too personal political experience of being Xicano in America, or you may come to understand the experience better as fellow human beings.
I’ve lived the poem, “A Chicano in Liverpool,” when the poet is asked do you belong here, though as a Chicano in Brighton, UK. My family and I have been, “Carved Over,” contended with fantasies about us and told we don’t belong in our homeland. I’m sure many folks have commented on the title, Mowing Leaves of Grass, a reference to Mr. Body Electric. I liked studying him in high school and college, but never forgot what soured the milk: Whitman’s excitable thoughts that the Mexican-American War would be the fulfillment of Anglo superiority. In this education system we Chicanos are often forced to study and agree wholeheartedly with statements, literary works, and famous authors that advocate for our troglodyte inherency to servitude or how we are better off dead.
For all his exalting of the body electric, WW ain’t talking about my brown body or African bodies. White bodies need only apply for the full body kung fu glow in his world. Of course, they didn’t teach his thoughts on the matter in high school or college. The American school system likes to sanitize and exculpate northern Europeans, call slaves workers, say the land was empty and just waiting for development, that Mexicans were too lazy here in the underpopulated and underfunded frontier to get anything done. What more proof of this white supremacy than the current Texas Legislature’s further attempt to whitewash history and combat the truth of black and brown humanity and that the system built on us is oppressive and wrong.
I’m quite okay with Whitman getting mowed along with much of the American literary canon, the Anglocentric selection of works that academia advertises and empowers by its own authority.
Mowing Leaves of Grass is a cry against the American experience and for the Indigenous American, one often we Chicanos must steal back as our detractors use the earlier marks of Spanish conquest against us, or make exploitative tourist fantasies of us, as mentioned in “Carved Over.” This poem is a mental overthrow of the USA’s colonial idea of us as foreigners which is accomplished as well in the poem, “Pilgrim.” This poem “Pilgrim” was read at the first Aztlán Report, a state of the raza yearly event started this year in 2021. The Aztlán Report was a gathering of Chicano organizations to inform about the events and activities of the year pertinent the Mexican American experience. I attended as a member of MeXicanos 2070, a non-profit Chicano organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing our culture. A perfect setting for this counter colonial poem.
These poems come from a year ago, el tiempo de naranja, the time of Trump. Sedillo cusses Trump, cusses his followers. Points out that we Xicanos are the future. Mowing Leaves of Grass, the book and the titular poem is mowing the canon, decolonizing the mind of education, American education. At times, it hits the same note, the note of resistance, but we are offered some poems like “La Reina,” where it’s a celebration of women who have persevered and transmitted culture, like my birth city of LA itself.
We need more than witnessing to provide trauma porn for salivating masters, or equally legless rage to amuse them. We don’t have anger issues, we got reasons to be angry. We need that emotion and reason, the chants and incantation in this collection that will heal and forge us. We need to be out of control and have un-colonial thoughts.
We deserve our anger; we need to express it. I needed these words when cops approached me as a teenager, guns on me, asked, are you a wetback? and slammed me against my car. I just knew “Fuck Tha Police” by NWA back then. Now I have the poem, “Custers.” Mowing Leaves of Grass has many stanzas expressing the “ya bastas,” “nada mas,” “best back ups” that Chicanos need.
These poems are angry. I am angry. As I write this, Mario Gonzales is dead, murdered by cops, called on by neighbors for being tall and brown in a public park. He had long hair, the caller said; he looked “Hispanic” or “Indian.” The words describe Mario, me, and the poet. These poems can’t not be personal.
I want everyone to read this. It’s poetry for now, but not limited to it. Mow the canon, celebrate the Xicano electric or find the new words we are on the cusp of speaking thanks to fearless poetry like Sedillo’s.
Born in El Sereno, California in 1981, Matt Sedillo writes from the vantage point of a second generation Chicano born in an era of diminishing opportunities and a crumbling economy. His writing - a fearless, challenging and at times even confrontational blend of humor, history and political theory - is a reflection of those realities.