Cenizas offers an arresting portrait of a Salvadoran family whose lives have been shaped by the upheavals of global politics. The speaker of these poems—the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants—questions the meaning of homeland as she navigates life in the United States while remaining tethered to El Salvador by the long shadows cast by personal and public history. Cynthia Guardado’s poems give voice to the grief of family trauma, while capturing moments of beauty and tenderness. Maternal figures preside over the verses, guiding the speaker as she searches the ashes of history to tell her family’s story. The spare, narrative style of the poems are filled with depth as the family’s layers come to light.
Guardado crafted the poems in Cenizas over a ten-year period, often traveling to El Salvador for research and to conduct interviews. The Salvadoran Civil War haunts the pages of this collection as it unflinchingly explores war, its aftermath, and the bittersweet legacies that are passed down from one generation to the next. The poems mourn those who were lost and honor the strength of the speaker’s ancestors. “All my people have been born from the ashes of volcanoes,” she writes, invoking a family lineage that has endured the atrocities committed against them. Even so, El Salvador keeps pulling the speaker back—and despite warnings of danger, she still manages to find beauty among the ruins.
About the Author
Cynthia Guardado (she/her/hers) is a Los Angeles–born Salvadoran poet and professor. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Cenizas and ENDEAVOR.
“Cenizas is a collection of authentic and vulnerable poems that meditate on Latinx culture, family, violence, and history. Cynthia Guardado is an El Salvadoran American poet seeking to understand where she comes from and how that shapes her vision of herself and a country that haunts her. The poet is a witness to violence and loss, but also a survivor, a willing keeper of a difficult lineage, one she wants to carry closely despite the costs of doing so. At its core, Cenizas shows us that to love means to embrace the whole of a thing, to be flooded with its beauty but also with its suffering.”—Emma Trelles, author of Tropicalia
“In Cenizas, Guardado delves into loss and reconciliation, and how those experiences inform her identity and her family’s unity. Diamond-hard and understated, Guardado’s poems speak of protection, survival, and renewal.”—Alexandra Lytton Regalado, author of Matria
"To read Cynthia Guardado’s Cenizas is to embark on a journey sifting through volcanic ash for any smoldering remains that might heal intergenerational traumas of the Salvadoran Civil War. Guardado’s poems expose how difficult it is to heal in the world of ashes. But it is in the darkness of these ashes that the embers of matrilineal resilience provide a guiding light. Guardado shows that it is only through facing the radical pain of the women who came before us that we can understand the blood in our own wounds before returning to ash ourselves."—Natalie Scenters-Zapico, author of Lima :: Limón
"Cenzias inhabits the fine realm between the living and the dead, the past and the present, el aquí y el allá. Each page is a portal through which Guardado exhumes the atrocities Los Estados has inflicted upon her family, her country, her own body. This is a book 'full of thunderstorms,' but our guide, our medium, our bruja, makes sure we learn to wring our clothes before the next lighting strike."—Javier Zamora author of Solito
"En este libro, 'No hay bibliotecas ... y la academia es mi mamá.' A poet’s legacy, her everyday knowledge, and doctoral education are hard lace and poetry. This El Salvador not only survived war and ongoing violence, but blossomed flor y canto across a continent, only to land in Cynthia Guardado’s words. And when we arrive in the middle of Los Angeles and its 'sea of people swarming,' the poet 'holds tightly onto' her family’s lives in this book: this is how she 'keeps them from falling' out of our memories and into the heart of American letters."—Vickie Vértiz, author of Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut
"Cenizas is a poetic record of what is kept, forgotten, or hidden—guardado—deep in inherited memory. As colonized people, our histories, both personal and collective, are so fragmented that the work of keeping a record falls on the children of immigrants, a near-impossible task amidst deportations, dying elders, distance, and violence. Cenizas, or ash, is a guiding metaphor as both the substance that billows up from the glowing heart of El Salvador's volcanoes, to the residues of war on a wounded land, both a kind of ancestral remains guardados in memory. In this searing, tender collection, Cynthia Guardado excavates the ruins of memory to write a record against forgetting, against danger, against violence, weaving voices together through time in an offering of imagined rehabilitation, repair, return."—Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, author of Beast Meridian