Introduced by Ruben Reyes, Jr.
Yesika Salgado’s debut collection Corazón (Not a Cult 2017), from which these three poems were selected, explores heartbreak in its various forms. Her collection exemplifies the grating side of love, centering the emotions that accompany a relationship gone astray, the “ripened fruit growing out of a dying tree.” But to think of Corazón as simply a compilation of love poems would be to have an incomplete understanding of Salgado’s debut.
Salgado identifies herself as a “fat, fly & brown” poet and her poems are imbued with a sense of what it means to live as a Salvadoran-American woman whose body defies stereotypical expectations of a hypersexualized, racialized Latina. “Peluda,” though in its core a love poem, is simultaneously about the gradual journey towards claiming one’s own body, unruly hair and all. She places herself as “ready to show you I am not the woman you think I am.”
In confronting the chasm between expectation and identity, Salgado’s Salvadoran heritage becomes a site of conflict. In the United States landscape where El Salvador is often made invisible— “every man I have loved does not know my country” —Salgado’s poems give shape to the diaspora. Though the poems that explicitly speak of her Salvadoran identity are few, her poems subtly broaden the roles Salvadorans play in the United States.
For example, she recuperates the machete, an image that U.S. politicians and media have linked to gangs for decades, and centers it as a positive, generative part of herself. The machete becomes a central part of the Salvadoran women she comes from, opening in “A Salvadoran Heart” with “I come from women of corn and cotton fields / of machete and fire.” Then she writes lovingly of the machete, saying that “the blade is my friend” and that her former lover is a weed and that “I know how to slice you out of me.”
Instead of a weapon of terror, the machete is a source of strength and pride. The presumed criminality of Salvadoran immigrants is undercut by Salgado’s poetry. They are love poems, but they are also poems about the sheer complexity of our people. One reads Salgado’s poetry and cannot avoid confronting the reality that Salvadorans are not just criminals or scapegoats or a slew of other narrow stereotypes. Salvadorans are also lovers, heartbreakers, the heartbroken, artists, wordsmiths, and poets. Yesika Salgado’s love poems are perfect vessels for navigating the vastness of who we are.