A collection speaks in part to the poet’s Mexican-American heritage.
In these multifaceted poems, Mexico-born, Houston-raised Salazar (Of Dreams and Thorns, 2017) explores general human themes like love and war in addition to specific experiences as a person of color. The book begins with a sensual meditation on desire, featuring luscious descriptions of a lover, from lips “moist like youth” to the body’s “softest velvet” slopes. The poems shift to odes to cultural icons like the Tejano star Selena and Mexican-German painter Frida Kahlo as well as occasion pieces honoring his brother’s 40th birthday and a friend’s mother’s memorial service. The author hits his stride when he delves into identity. In “I Am Not Brown,” he contemplates the societal implications of skin tone and his inability to fit into the rigid category of Caucasian or Latino. “For white and black and brown alike / Are slaves to history’s brush strokes,” he writes. “Grateful for the Work,” perhaps Salazar’s loveliest poem, catalogs the day of a laborer, starting with an early morning awakening and following him as he toils in 100-degree heat, enjoys tacos from his lunch pail, buys beverages from a child’s lemonade stand, and returns home to an equally hard-working wife. The author then makes an abrupt turn toward Syria in a series of poems that condemn that country’s president, Bashar Hafez al-Assad. They serve as a rallying cry for Syrians and grieve for the murdered masses. Salazar’s closing poem, “Sons of Bitches,” is a clunky rant about a 20-year-old immigrant shot in the head by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent. The gratuitous violence and political theologizing are ill at ease with the intimate, personal experiences that preceded them, such as the fablelike “A Mexican is Made of This,” in which Salazar beautifully describes the “rainbows, bronze, backbone, butterflies” that his people embody.
A volume of poetry that shines when focused on the author’s experiences of race and culture.