This collection of poetry may be founded on a series of playful dreams, but its message of protest offers a rousingly powerful wake-up call.
This second volume of poetry by Salinas is divided into two sections. The first and longer of the two is entitled “Sleeping” while the second is called “Woken.” Many of the poems found in the first section delve into whimsical, dreamlike scenarios. In “Cat,” he muses: “I dreamt I was a snow-white cat who / Owned Haruki Murakami.” The deliciously absurd piece describes the poet as a cat master, demanding that felines be featured in all of Murakami’s books in exchange for food and shelter. In the equally absurd “Smoke,” Salinas writes: “I dreamt I was a cigarette,” followed later by “I begged Ayn / Rand to light me up.” The poem is rendered darker by the knowledge that Rand, a heavy smoker, contracted lung cancer. The mercurial nature of Salinas’ poetry will leave readers uneasy and uncertain of where he will take them next but beguiled all the same. His writing sometimes shoots from the hip. In a poem called “Native,” he references sexual harassment accusations against the Native American novelist Sherman Alexie, asserting controversially: “You allowed your pendulous / Totem pole to carve the path, and now all / Our efforts are shattered.” Yet when addressing the death of George Floyd in “Breathe,” the poet’s tone is tender, although tempered with rage: “My brother, / My beauty, / I can’t breathe / When I hold back the / Black rain.” Alternatively, “Whistling Dixie on Trump Tower one fine January morning” channels Salinas' disdain via an erasure poem shrewdly crafted by omitting selected words from Donald Trump’s 2017 presidential inauguration speech—part of which reads threateningly: “I will fight you / never, ever let you / start winning again.” Other pieces are marked by the poet’s expressive wordplay; in “Serpentine Situation,” gridlock on the interstate is described delightfully as “Aggro jazz of / Chrysalis lives, / Some in Chryslers.” This outstanding collection goes where it likes, often to places some readers may not wish to follow. Those who do will not experience a dull moment.
Triumphantly mordant and transporting poems.