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John Lundberg

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A Poet Fights for Change in Mexico

Posted: 08/12/11 02:03 PM ET

When prominent Mexican poet Javier Sicilia lost his 24-year-old son to drug-related violence this past March, he took to his pen, writing the following poem only hours after hearing of the murder:

The world is not worthy of words
they have been suffocated from the inside
as they suffocated you, as they tore apart your lungs ...
the pain does not leave me
all that remains is a world
through the silence of the righteous,
only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.

Sicilia believes that the sorrowful lines may be the last he ever writes: "Poetry," he said, "doesn't exist in me anymore."

He has chosen to honor his son in a different way: by fighting to fix the problems that resulted in his death. Soon after the tragedy, he founded the "Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity," a group that works to force political and social change. They march chanting the slogan "¡Hasta la madre!," which translates to "We have had it."

Siclia's movement has, so far, succeeded where others failed. He's used his standing as a poet to earn widespread public support, along with the support of prominent Mexican artists -- most recently the actor Diego Luna of Y tu mama tambien fame. Sicilia explained to the press, "this movement is born out of poetry and the artistic community is looking for some way to express the sorrow of a grieving people, for we artists are also repositories of suffering and repositories of peace."

True to its artistic roots, the movement customarily begins its public statements with a poem. When Sicilia spoke at Mexico's Chamber of Deputies last Thursday, he read the following passage from "Sunstone" by Octavio Paz:

The world is born when two people kiss...
the invisible walls

The rotten masks that divide one man

From another, one man from himself

They crumble

For one enormous moment and we glimpse

The unity that we lost, the desolation

Of being man, and all its glories

Sharing bread and sun and death

The forgotten astonishment of being alive

And the group seems to genuinely embrace the poem's passion and idealism -- they are incredibly active. This past Thursday, they held an event to announce the signing of a bi-national petition calling on President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón to improve gun control regulations (according to the ATF, 70% percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico in the last two years were traced back to the U.S), and they will march this weekend to protest President Calderón's actions in the country's war on drugs, leaving hundreds of old shoes to commemorate the dead.

The group, including Sicilia himself, is also in formal talks with the Mexican government. Sicilia claims that Calderón has admitted, in private, to making mistakes in the war on drugs, though it remains to be seen how he will act to remedy them. Sicilia, in the meantime, will continue to press the issue with poetry and popular support. This weekend, his protestors will embody his hopes, and the hopes of Paz's poem, by offering kisses.