Beltway Poetry Quarterly


Volume 13:1, Winter 2012

Francisco Aragón, Guest Editor

A young man raises his hand.

“How does it feel writing about our country?”

The invited guest tells the story of how he came to poetry.

The country in question: El Salvador. The scene of this exchange: a high school in Washington, DC.

Frazier O’Leary, who has taught and coached for thirty years, has gathered twenty or so of his Cardozo students, most of them natives of this small Central American nation, or the sons and daughters of Salvadoran immigrants. A few weeks earlier they had each been given The Art of Exile by William Archila—also born in El Salvador, who migrated to California in 1980 at the age of twelve. After Archila’s presentation, O’Leary’s students line up to have their books signed, chatter and visit with their new friend.

That spring afternoon, in 2010, poetry became a palpable bridge.

Among those who witnessed what took place in that classroom was Dan Vera, who’d graciously agreed to document the moment with his digital camera—whose poem, “If You Want To Purify America’s Textbooks of Ethnic Studies,” is one of the twenty-six poems you’ll read in this winter issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, an issue that aims to embody a similar bridge.

Guest editors of Beltway Poetry are asked to hone in on a local angle. Mine is the AWP Conference & Bookfair held in Washington. Or rather: the “off-site” event at the True Reformer Building on U Street that unfolded on February 4, 2011, an event called “Floricanto in DC: A Multicultural Response to SB1070”—in reference to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.

But my duties as the AWP Conference Chair kept me from attending what, by all accounts, was a moving and stunning evening of poetry. Had I been able to participate, I would have shared this:

to Jan Brewer


Cruelty is sensual and stirs you
Governor, your name echoing the sludge
beneath your cities’ streets. It spurs

the pleasure you take
whenever your mouth nears
a mic, defending your law…your wall.

Cruelty is sensual and stirs you
Governor; we’ve noticed your face
its contortions and delicate sneer

times you’re asked to cut
certain ribbons—visit a dusty place
you’d rather avoid, out of the heat.

Cruelty is sensual and stirs you
Governor, the vision of your state
something you treasure in secret

though we’ve caught a glimpse
in the jowls of your sheriff:
bulldog who doubles as your heart.

The poets in this special issue of Beltway Poetry read on U Street that evening; or were slated to read but weren’t able to get to Washington because of weather-related travel restrictions; or read at the press conference at the foot of the Capitol two days later.

What they all do share is a vision that honors and celebrates our nation’s immigrant roots. They reject the xenophobia that SB1070 in Arizona and, more recently, HB 56 in Alabama, represent.

I’d like to thank Francisco X. Alarcón, Sarah Browning, and Rich Villar for organizing the Floricanto that has given rise to this One Poem Festival—here—on the web. A shout out, as well, to the poets who responded to my invitation and sent work. And, of course, a heartfelt nod to Kim Roberts, founder and editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, for this meaningful opportunity.

Francisco Aragón
November 1, 2011
Washington, DC

Table of Contents

Andre Yang, Why I Feel the Way I Do About SB 1070

Roberto Vargas, Solitude of Diaspora

Dorianne Laux, Nearly Free

Regie Cabico, Mango Poem

Barbara Jane Reyes, My California

Sarah Browning, Step Crushing on the Wild Thyme

Oscar Bermeo, the ice worker lives

Susan Deer Cloud, He Told Me

Hedy Treviño, A Poem Dedicated to My Grandfather, José García

Juan Felipe Herrera, busman

Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Los Santos Gitanos

Pamela Uschuk, 2011, The Year of the Metal Rabbit

Abel Salas, Chook Son, Arizona
Luis Alberto Ambroggio
, US Landscapes/Paisajes de los Estados Unidos

Dan Vera, If You Want to Purify America’s Textbooks of Ethnic Studies

Marilyn Nelson, Honor Guard

Joseph Ross, If You Leave Your Shoes

Carmen Gimenez Smith, Have You Made Anything

Luis J. Rodríguez, Piece by Piece

Tara Betts, Gunfire & Snowfall

Randall Horton, For All Those Who Benefitted from Slaves and the So-Called Illegal Alien

Francisco X. Alarcón, Whale Songs

Carmen Calatayud, An Offering of Strength

Martín Espada, Isabel’s Corrido

Rich Villar, Always Here

Aracelis Girmay, English Class



This special issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly is co-sponsoredby Letras Latinas, a program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.