To Francisco X. Alarcón (1954–2016)

You made tomatoes laugh
& warned me
some words die in cages.                                          

I met you first in the desert.

You burned sage, greeted,
each of the four directions
with plumed syllables.

The ritual embarrassed me—
your stout body, your
mischievous smile did not.                

You were familial.                               

The first poem I wrote
that sounded like me
echoed your work.                 

Copal, popote, tocayo, cacahuate:
you taught me Spanish
is a colonial tongue.

Some Mesoamerican elders
believed there’s a fifth direction.

Not the sky or the ground
but the person right next to you.

I’m turning to face you, maestro.
I’m greeting you.


Copyright © 2020 by Eduardo C. Corral. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

Francisco X. Alarcón’s work made mine possible. I still remember reading his poems for the first time. The nouns and verbs were queer, elemental, wounded, bilingual, proud, and furious. By making my language and life visible, his work spurred me to write my own poems. I will be forever grateful.”
Eduardo C. Corral