PROMISES OF GOLD is a testament to the truth that it is always possible to lay claim to a poetry of your own, a poetry that is whole-heartedly filled with goodness, a poetry that creates and cultivates a love for oneself & other people to witness, to feel, and connect with; and ultimately: to move for & take action with. I’m enjoying the questions of and for authority. I’m moved to ask my own questions. My spirit is moved by the poet’s reflections on tenderness, masculinity and toxic masculinity. On what it means to be family. On what it means to be Mexican. On what it means to be American. On what it means to love, as a man, and as a human being trying to make sense of existing and being alive in a seemingly ever-maddening world.
This collection is a clear example that poetry, at its root level, is here for us as human beings to witness ourselves, one another, to fuel one another’s spirits. To nurture our being-ness and bring us together, as inhabitants of this planet, as people occupying similar and different spaces and places on this humungous rock hurling through space. And that to a creative person, to a poet, this is an intrinsic part of being alive, of sharing in this brief and fleeting human experience.
As the poet explains in the introductory author’s note, PROMISES OF GOLD started out with a desire to write love poems. Love poems to the poet’s beloved, love poems to family members, love poems to friends and homies. Then the pandemic began. Then the uprisings of 2020 began. Then the poet became reflective on capitalism’s brutality, on the injustices of the prison industrial complex, on authority’s pervasive illusion, on the violence of borders. Then, then, then, and then.
“But because I am who I am & because we live in the world that we live in, I wrote this book instead” - José Olivarez
It seems as if the poems that are not explicitly “love poems” are incognito love poems. After reading “American Tragedy,” the first thought that came to my mind was: fuck the police. After reading “Poem Where No One Is Deported,” one of my reactions was: fuck la migra. So, I really see these poems too, even though not “explicitly” love poems, as love poems. If only with a grander, more encompassing vision of love than what is considered “typical.” After all, what place does anger have in love and in loving? What is love’s relationship to justice? What is the capacity in my love to hate racism? How true can one’s love really be if it excludes seeing precisely how fucked up the seemingly cyclical nature of control and oppression can be and really is?
And I enjoy this about Olivarez’ work as well: as a reader, I felt invited into a conversation, and really at times, invited to walk in the speaker’s own shoes, to see what he sees, to feel, as close as humanly possible, what he feels.
Along with the brilliant Mexican
humor woven throughout this collection (See: “Ode to Tortillas,” “Eating Taco
Bell with Mexicans,” et al.), this collection is overflowing with lines and
poems that reach straight through the chest, through the breastplate & ribs
and finally to the heart, squeezing the heart to life. Not unlike when a
handball is squeezed and it creates a brief concave and then, when let go of,
the ball intrinsically reverts back to its spherical shape and is once again
bounceable. This is what I’ve found in my experience with PROMISES OF GOLD. The
heart is touched, the heart is squeezed and given pause, the heart is let go of;
and the heart resumes its shape to keep beating. I’m reminded of the Jay-Z
lyric: like a roundball you bounce back. PROMISES OF GOLD did this, does
this, and as I visit and re-visit these poems, PROMISES OF GOLD continues doing
this for my heart: from page to page my heart bounces to life’s rhythm, time and
- Daniel Cyran