Prayer

I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
in houses
of ill repute
and gets up late
on Saturdays

a god
who whistles
through the streets
and trembles
before the lips
of his lover

a god
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait

a god
who spits
blood from
tuberculosis and
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare

a god
knocked
unconscious
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration

a god
who pisses
out of fear
before the flaring
electrodes
of torture

a god
who hurts
to the last
bone and
bites the air
in pain

a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god

a god
who longs
from jail
for a change
in the order
of things

I want a
more godlike
god

– Francisco X. Alarcón (2002)

I highly recommend reading Alarcón’s collection of poems From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche if you ever get the chance.  Especially if you’re into gay chicano poets, but also if you just like poetry that speaks to outsiders. He’s one of my favorites even though some lines don’t flow perfectly for me. Like, for example, if I were workshopping the poem above, I would have scrapped “I want a more godlike god” and just ended on “change in the order of things.” A part of that could be that these poems are translated from Spanish.

At least in English, there’s a choppiness to Alarcón’s style that feels imperfect, but also more endearing, and strikes a chord that more polished poetry doesn’t quite.

Reading his poetry is like swallowing a lump, is like recognizing the unrecognizable:

“if I become mute kissing your thighs,
it’s that my heart eagerly
searches your flesh for a new dawn” (from Of Dark Love: I)

“turning
Natives
into aliens” (To Those Who Have Lost Everything)

“matches
amidst
so much
gasoline” (L.A. Prayer)

Forced just to isolate one of his poems, I chose Prayer because even atheists like me do, I think, have the desire to see parts of themselves reflected back at them in the form of some higher power. Whether the deity be cosmic or supernatural.

I think what also draws me to Alarcón, and most of the artists I enjoy, is that as recognizable as their pain is to me, it’s also a voyeuristic experience I’m pretty safe from. At the end of the day, I’ve led an extremely lucky life compared to some, and my complaints concerning the injustice of the world are on behalf of others – friends, family, perhaps, but ultimately strangers.

Which is why when I tried to write my own version of Prayer, it didn’t quite come out as sympathetic.

A God Like Me

If I had a god like me
She’d be pretty lazy

A sleeping god
A napping god
Privileged and Spoiled
Selfish and Unaware

Playful in those moments between sleep soaked and awake
Sun drenched skin buried beneath blankets of naked light

A loving god
A god who loves with words and kisses, nothing else

Hungry for prayer
Ravenous for worship
Doing nothing to earn it
But expectant nonetheless

– Amanda Jerido-Katz (2018)

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