Francisco X. Alarcón and C.D. Wright: a double departure

Francisco Xavier Alarcón (1954 – 2016)

I heard about the sudden death of C.D. Wright earlier today, and had barely begun to absorb that jolt when I learned from Neeli Cherkovski that Francisco X. Alarcón had also died. I never met C.D. Wright, but I saw Francisco read at CSU Long Beach just eight weeks ago. He gave no indication that his health was in immediate serious danger. He read with passion, humor, and great joy. The audience was small, no doubt because the reading was announced at the very last moment. I asked Francisco why the reading had not been promoted more, and he explained that he was down in the area to visit his family for Thanksgiving and I inferred that he had decided at the last minute to give a reading at his alma mater before he back north. Indeed, his large family seemed to make up about a third of the audience. Among the family members was his mother, who had seen all seven of her children grow up to be professionals, including the fields of law and architecture. Anyone who knows the working-class status of Wilmington, especially back at mid-20th century, will understand what an accomplishment it is to raise children so successfully while working in the fish factories.

Alarcón was born in 1954 in Wilmington, but spent much of his childhood in Mexico. He worked his way through college and graduated from the college I teach at, California State University, Long Beach in the late 1970s. He then moved north and did graduate work at Stanford and established himself as a poet in San Francisco by the mid-1980s. He taught at UC Davis for many years and was a prolific poet. I especially admired his ability to write poems for children.

He won the 2002 Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bay Area. His books include Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (1992), Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortune (2001), From the Other Side of Night / Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (2002), and Ce Uno One: Poems for the New Sun / Poemas para el Nuevo Sol (2010).

Here is one of the poems that Neeli and I published in “Cross-Strokes” (in both Spanish and English).

Del otro lado de la noche

qué decir
ante
el silencio

las páginas
que se quedan
sin escribir

los libros
en donde
todavia

ni somos
ni estamos
ni existimos

esta vida
condenada
al olvido

aquí
nadie sabe
ni sabrá

del mar
que llevamos
adentro

From the Other Side of Night

what to say
about silence

the pages
left
unwritten

the books
in which
we are yet

to be
appear
exist

this life
condemned
to oblivion

here
nobody knows
nor will know

of the sea
we carry
within us