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  • A New History
  • Katlin Marisol Sweeney (bio)
Yesika Salgado Not a Cult
65 Pages; Print, $15.00

The poems featured in Yesika Salgado's third book, Hermosa, explore the intimate moments that fill the in-between space of the hyphen appearing between Salvadoran-American. Salgado crafts poems in which cultural memory and personal pain are interwoven to interrogate how first-generation Salvadoran-Americans develop a sense of identity in the borderlands, a land different from that of their parents. Her writing considers how historical trauma shapes the unique dimensions of pain and suffering that different generations experience within the same household, while at the same time, these poems refuse to privilege historical violence as the only story worth telling. This is made clear in the first lines of Hermosa's opening poem, titled "Diaspora Writes To Her New Home," in which Salgado writes, "I am what comes after the civil war." This line—a formative moment of self-identification—frames the subsequent poems in the collection as an author seeing herself, her potential, and her future on her own terms as she simultaneously identifies and tracks how trauma informs her life.

Indeed, throughout the collection, Salgado makes explicit and subtle references to the violent history of the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980-1992 and caused a massive migration of Salvadorans, including her parents, from El Salvador to countries like the United States. Individuals fleeing El Salvador did so in an effort to escape the widespread violence that primarily effected Salvadoran civilians caught in the crossfire between the militarized government and revolutionary forces. Given that the war resulted in the displacement and murder of thousands of Salvadorans, this event dominates discussion of Salvadoran and Salvadoran-American identity in the twenty-first century.

Salgado's collection does not abide by this trend. Instead, her writing demonstrates an investment in documenting life beyond the temporal border of the civil war. The poems of Hermosa portray a life influenced by the events of the war while still existing and evolving beyond it: the "what comes after," which she characterizes as her own stories of love and loss. As the first poem in the collection establishes, these stories must be understood on their own terms. She declares that she is "not the survival" of her parents or an embodiment of the lingering traumas associated with what they experienced. Instead, she characterizes herself as "a new history," one indeed in conversation with the lives of past generations, but still independent enough to have new and separate experiences.

Salgado's collection creates a fruitful, exploratory space of limitless possibilities in which there is no demarcation between her dreams and reality. There is a fluidity to her writing that, when read, feels like one is watching still images gradually being brought to life. Her poems overlay responses yearned for, desired outcomes, and paths not taken onto the events and relationships that populate her life, the result being a dynamic, imaginative space of poetic playfulness where she tackles the tenderness of her hopes and fears.

Poems like "What I Remember Of Love" resemble a montage, in that Salgado creates on the page a series of moments in a relationship long gone. In concise overviews separated by forward slashes, she describes her memories of liminal moments with her ex-lover, such as "pulling over on Beverly to point out the full moon," "a six-hour fevered confessional on xmas eve," and "when it got so complicated we stopped trying." Others, like "La Cita," show Salgado bringing the reader into moments when the reality of a dream slowly reveals itself to be at odds with her expectations, such as a third date with a man who is distracted by his affections for another woman. In "A Different Ending," she writes in hypotheticals to a man she once loved. She explores what the seasons of her life would look like—and what she would have lost—if the outcome between them was the ability to "say it worked." And in the poem "The Jacaranda Tree," she makes use of both hypotheticals and montage to create a space of her own where she can live exactly...


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