In “Sojourn Down the Styx,” Salinas reflects on this experience. (The motif of travel — the viaje, or trip — runs throughout Salinas' work.) Taking readers on an internal voyage through his personal hell, he guides us through “the timeless/corridors of my tormented mind,” lamenting that “clocks don't run backwards/nor does youth/raise from its prison deaths/to mock grey hairs/nor mourn society's accusations/of unfatherliness.”
“This is my world,” he says. “Don't think that because I live here I don't think of my children.”
This piece, he remarks, came at a particular time when he started to shift from a personal to a global view. Through “Sojourn,” Salinas vows to help create a world with “warrior” daughters and sons to change the conditions he confronted in his youth.
Born in San Antonio (near the present-day location of Sam's Burger Joint), Salinas' familia moved to East Austin while he was still a small child. Salinas grew up in a culturally rich environment. His grandmother wrote corridos and acted in the theater, while his mother instilled in him a love of literature. A “voracious” reader, Salinas didn't take writing seriously until he found himself in jail.
For the better part of his early adulthood, from the late 1950s and parts of the '60s, into the early '70s, Salinas passed through Soledad, Huntsville, Leavenworth, and Marion, developing his literary voice and, along the way, a politicized, culturally rooted consciousness.
Salinas calls these infamous penitentiaries “political prisons,” without a hint of romanticism. Simply put, he says “the political climate was ripe for studying and learning.” Through networking, he and other prisoners were able to stay connected to the growing, overlapping social movements on the outside, such as the Chicano movimiento and resistance to the war in Vietnam. At the same time, through study groups, newspapers, and solidarity strikes, they educated and organized themselves around issues directly facing them.
Back-to-back elegies “Unity Vision” (“sad summer/of Native tragedies/and Dallas Chicanito deaths”) and “Bass in Yo Face” (“it hurt to see you caught/in the clutches of demons/some of us barely escaped”) share the same somber, solemn tone as “Remember Vietnam,” a memorial to participants in the anti-war movement.
The elegies are followed by “Did Charlie Have a Horn,” an upbeat, animated, catchy number that breaks from the more weighty pieces which precede and follow. In it, Salinas rhymes, “I have always been suspicious/about a thought that's quite delicious/and it keeps me humming this refrain:/Did Charlie have a horn?/I mean the day that he was born ...”
Along with the aforementioned “Bass in Yo Face,” Salinas reinterprets several other selections he previously recorded for Many Mundos, including the anti-globalization rallying cry, “Shaft NAFTA,” and the transcendent “Amorindio.”
raúlrsalinas, the Xicanindio poet, has more than just a philosophical connection with native peoples. Following his release from Marion in 1972, he left for the Pacific Northwest. Involuntarily exiled from his friends and family in California and Texas, Salinas wouldn't return to Austin for another decade.
While in Washington, Salinas came in direct contact with native struggles. And it was through his work around fishing rights that Salinas became involved with the American Indian Movement. His poetry from this period reflects this indigenous orientation, a perspective well-incorporated into the fabric of his very being. This cumulates in “High Flying Eagle,” the standout piece on the album. While backed by a melodic saxophone, Salinas intones “High, high flying sacred eagle/gracefully gliding, almost hiding/over pastel heavens/sending blessings of much needed medicine/for warriors weary from battling the beast.”
Is Salinas referring to his recent battle with cancer? A meditation on morality, perhaps? Or does he seek relief and respite for all who work to shape a better world? A beautiful, contemplative, moving number, “High Flying Eagle” offers prayer as poetry, a song to soothe the soul.
Beyond closes with “Sensualarte,” a love poem set to a sweeping score that at times overwhelms Salinas' reading. The music continues after he concludes his reading, returning us to the faint wisps of an accordion playing “Las Golondrinas,” and the roar of waves or traffic, somewhere in the distance; a fitting despedida which takes us full circle, on a journey of a lifetime.
Salinas appears with other noted poets and authors — including Roberto Rodríguez, Patrisia Gonzales, Kalamy ya Salaam, Diana López, Susan Bright, María Espinosa, Pam Uschuk, Wendy Barker, Robert Flynn, Oscar Casares, Alejandro Murguía, and Tony Díaz y Nuestra Palabra — on Saturday, November 23 at the Guadalupe Theater, as part of the 15th Annual Inter-American Bookfair & Literary Festival.