At what point does poetry transcend to testimony? What are the requirements? Is it the intersectionality of varying experience or moving tales of perseverance? American Cavewall Sonnets by C.T. Salazar steps forward to answer this inquiry. Each piece feels effortless. A soft caress envelops the stories and gives them a genuine vulnerability that’s hard to pinpoint. Salazar explains “I wanted to portray a place that’s so rid of intimacy that even the most brazen men are wilted and having to sneak these moments with each other. A lot of what I want to do with the politics around masculinity is undo it with touch”. It is through this, that Salazar gently dances amongst the pages, and extends a hand to anyone willing to be open in that space with their words.
“I knew I wanted this sequence to feel like some kind of anonymous testimony. Something that survived something full of grief and tragedy.”
American Cavewall Sonnets is broken into two very distinct progressions (American Cavewall Sonnet and Sonnet River). The opening lines “Even in the shape of a boy I can wear the morning. Daisies behind my ear. Minutes thin, gold arm hairs. Blackberry vine tied around my wrist” (Wolf Milk and wilderness America), sets the stage for exploration and release from the ideals of masculinity that have shaped countless male identifying characters in poems. This subject matter is a conscious choice, addressed throughout the collection in the form of varying moments and reflections. “In this version Perseus holds my head and all the soldiers turn to piled feathers. Now collapse. Summer-dried troop of boys gone angelic soft. A brave boy called me a beam of moonlight when his father wasn’t looking. I’m all babel of tongues for you: bird of prey boy, bloom boy. I could love you all. I could call you whatever you want” (In this version Perseus holds my head).
Deeply personal conversations occur in our daily lives, and Salazar continues to depict them utilizing an intertwining of religion and reality. “After Adam was buried, Eve begged God to let her keep some part of her husband, so God dropped Adam’s new heart in her hands. She couldn’t believe how heavy it was” (Sonnet River). Though biblical in referential origin, this feels intimate and relatable. Throughout the second progression, one point of note is the way in which the city of Mississippi subtly becomes a character. “Baby I’ll be your bullet-peppered stop sign—our steady aim and your favorite smear of stars to shoot at. Bounce a bullet off a church bell. If the ringing reaches God, he’ll bless our names, call us his children of King James and Remington“ (Sonnet River).
“So far I’ve lived my entire life in Mississippi—while I’ve always written around it as an un-named subject, this was the first time I really wanted to make a call for tenderness specifically within the temporal bounds of Mississippi, without erasing Mississippi’s tendency to harm in all its historic ways”
My experience with this body of work was cathartic. In many instances I felt understood. In many instances I felt expressed. In a few situations I did feel the topics were under discussed, even throughout the nuances of poetic depiction. Throughout the collection, I felt like a very private and intimate love was being shared with me. This could be the love between the same sex. The words solidified themselves more as a secret between two entities who exist beyond consideration of gender. It is in this depth of expression that the work transcends the page, and resonates with me in ways indescribable. That, is what I define as the truest definition of testimony.
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