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Rosa Alcalá

Rosa Alcalá was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey. She received an MFA from Brown University and a PhD from SUNY Buffalo.

She is the author of the poetry collections MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem, 2017), The Lust of Unsentimental Waters (Shearsman Books, 2012), and Undocumentaries (Shearsman Books, 2010). Of her work, Carmen Giménez Smith writes, “Rose Alcalá’s poems dwell in the liminal space between the personal and the political—poems built on the idea that ‘the world exists,’ and that work to define the metaphysical and ephemeral architectures of origin, migration, nationalism, and loss.”

The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, and runner-up for a PEN Translation Award, she is the editor and co-translator of New & Selected Poems of Cecilia Vicuña (Kelsey Street Press, 2018). Her poems have been translated into Spanish and Portuguese, with Montenegrin translations forthcoming. She is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she teaches in its Bilingual MFA Program, and will be the guest editor for Poem-a-Day in September 2021

Selected Bibliography

MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem, 2017)
The Lust of Unsentimental Waters (Shearsman Books, 2012)
Undocumentaries (Shearsman Books, 2010)

By This Poet


Fushigi na Chicharron

(for Sergio Mondragón)

The body's hidden face
removed of its excesses
is cooked into a codex
that reads:          
this little piggy went to market            
this little piggy piled high
what's meant by surface.
Everywhere a nation awaits, 
a cardboard raft
soaks through. Everywhere is
a drink of water                                                                            
swimming with the dead:
Leagues that can't be reached 
or spoken.

A man in the plaza 
sweats beneath
the synthetic hide 
of historical sacrifice
and does a dance
making tourists 
in t-shirts
so alive.
Far north 
an altar will be built
for the seamstress
forgotten in piecing
such garments.


The question, as we sit 
by the grill, becomes:
What is the real animal 
between us?
What skin do we stretch,
scrape and tension with
our desire 
for expansion? For books
that leap like bodies
not our own?
So we can never end
with more or less
than this:   What
does it mean to start here, 
with a taco de chicharrón,
as if to say "fushigi na en"
the encounter and consumption of skin
launches every ship?

"Fushigi na en" is related to the Japanese concept of fate or destiny—i.e., when two people are bound to meet or feel a connection upon meeting. Chicharrón is fried pork rind.

At Hobby Lobby

She tosses a bolt of fabric into the air. Hill country, prairie, a horse trots there. I say three yards, and her eyes say more: What you need is guidance, a hand that can zip a scissor through cloth. What you need is a picture of what you've lost. To double the width against the window for the gathering, consider where you sit in the morning. Transparency's appealing, except it blinds us before day's begun. How I long to captain that table, to return in a beautiful accent a customer's request. My mother kneeled down against her client and cut threads from buttons with her teeth, inquiring with a finger in the band if it cut into the waist. Or pulled a hem down to a calf to cool a husband's collar. I can see this in my sleep and among notions. My bed was inches from the sewing machine, a dress on the chair forever weeping its luminescent frays. Sleep was the sound of insinuation, a zigzag to keep holes receptive. Or awakened by a backstitch balling under the foot. A needle cracking? Blood on a white suit? When my baby's asleep I write to no one and cannot expect a response. The fit's poor, always. No one wears it out the door. But fashions continue to fly out of magazines like girls out of windows. Sure, they are my sisters. Their machines, my own. The office from which I wave to them in their descent has uneven curtains, made with my own pink and fragile hands.

You & the Raw Bullets

Why the image just now of a bullet entering the mouth? Why call it raw, when it isn’t sticky and pink like a turkey meatball, just the usual: gold, and shiny, and cylindrical? What about this bullet is uncooked? Why does it multiply with you in parka or short skirt, versions of the you that you were, swallowing raw bullets as you walked? The images come without assailant, without gun, just the holes the bullets opened, the holes through which they went. And now at the age in which you ride enclosed in glass like the Pope or President you are spitting up the bullets slow-simmered in your own juices. You are shitting them out, feeling them drop from you in clumps of blood, in the days of bleeding left. But you cannot expel all of them. Some, raw as the day they entered, have expanded their mushroom heads into the flesh, or lodged their hot tip into the taste center of the brain. Will the tongue’s first encounter with pomegranate seeds be forever a lost Eden, that fruit of your girlhood, which, also meaning grenade, was perhaps never innocent? Do your own raw bullets come back to you, my friends? Let us legislate the active voice, instead. Not, “Many bodies have been used as blanks, aluminum cans.” But, “Here are the men who pulled the trigger, look at them.”