Monday, February 6, 2017

A poem for a snowy day

This poem is part of the series An American Four Seasons that I wrote for Seattle Symphony's project, All Of Us Belong. The poem is inspired by Charles Ive's A New England Holiday symphony and it is a response to the first movement, Washington's Birthday.

Washington’s Winter

Winter’s taciturn realm asks nothing.
Crowned in hushed browns and somber greens,
it rules by turns with quiet song
then with pummeling winds obeying no one.
It will be dark soon everyday for months
Color hibernates, leaving behind
its essence to purr
in everything oblique light touches.
In the hush, it asks us to see, and see again,
to hear the echo of step
over moss covered ground,
to peek into ourselves
and consider roads not taken
and those taken and why.
Winter’s austere architecture
reveals in trees their armature
and in us a chance to behold
the dried reeds edging our heart.
A man named Washington
set for posterity an example
by willingly electing
a shade of retirement
over political might.
Winter winds do whip
the pubic madness of frozen filigree twigs,
but come summer each branch
will blush in apple glow.
Nothing is so simple as it first appears.
One minute violin strings coax
memories from their tenderest dens
and in the next, pluck
raucous joy at a winter’s barn dance.
What shows on the surface fallow,
conceals a gathering of creative force.
Slow cadence of winter days,
a tune by and by, to awaken.

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken
George Washington – “shade of retirement” from Washington’s Farewell Address To the people of the United States
Overheard at Dorothy Day House -It will be dark soon everyday for months
Charles Ives – “winter’s barn dance” from Score notes

Sunday, January 29, 2017

El Salvador: America Offers One Family The Chance To Forget Fears
West Palm Beach, The Evening Times - January 30th, 1981

This newspaper article, written exactly 36 years ago, marks the beginning of my immigration story. Those people in the picture are my parents and my sister. I am the one sitting, with my fists turned awkwardly in the foreground. When the photo was taken we had been in the US exactly 13 days. Before that we survived in a war zone. For decades the article awaited, folded, inside a manila folder until the day I realized how lucky I was to have such palpable evidence of my family's arrival in the US.

I have to say that in my rebellious college years the headline struck me as jingoistic. But over time I have come to appreciate the confidence in the sentiment. There is pride in that headline. The pride of being a prosperous, generous country welcoming others into the fold. This is how America saw itself before my family arrived on its shores and how it has seen itself for the thirty six years we have resided on its soil. This welcoming, generous attitude has been a core American value. Until this week.

I have collapsed several times over the past twenty four hours unable to hold in my mind the terror the refugees being denied entry into the US have encountered in the countries they are fleeing. I think of  the shock and desperation they must be feeling at being so close to hope again only to be told they may not leave the airport.

To immigrate is a form of death. No one leaves what they know and love gleefully. In my family's case, my parents left everything they had: brothers, sisters, friends, possessions, jobs, culture, language, the safety of the familiar, to give their daughter's a chance at life. Literally they sought an opportunity to save us from the destruction and massacres destroying El Salvador in the early 1980's.

Despite my youthful misgivings, it turns out that the newspaper headline was correct after all. America did offer me and my family a chance. A huge chance. To dream, to conjure possibilities, to know what is like to plan ahead, to almost take for granted that a new day will come.

The stance taken by the Trump administration comes from a small America, from a US no longer confident in its greatness and in its ability to offer respite to those escaping unspeakable brutalities. It is unbecoming of this nation to take such a narrow, prejudiced stance. It sullies its own history.

I am, and forever will be, grateful for the chance America offered my family. I venture to say everyone who has been given the same chance appreciates it keenly, and every day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This City

Nothing is more satisfying, I once read, than meeting your baby for the first time and I could not agree more. But seeing your first book published comes in a close second. I have done a few readings of My City in Seattle each imbued with so much meaning. The crowds have been different, but I've always received a very positive reaction. The collaboration with Floating Bridge Press was flawless. Could not be happier with the end result.

And here how to order it from Floating Bridge Press.

And here a review from The Seattle Review of Books

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Today (sadly) is the LAST day of the beloved Seattle City Council's Words' Worth Poetry Program. Council member Nick Licata, who started it, is retiring and poets who read as part of the program will show up to read the Last Line of the last poem they read when it was their turn. It should be an eclectic reading, a bit mad perhaps, but above all full of heart for everything that Council member Licata has done for the arts, and poetry in particular here in Seattle. 

Reading/Celebration: City Council Chambers at 2:00 sharp.
Follow it on the city channel: OR read the composite Last Line poem -- and all of the poems read over the thirteen years of the program at

Read more about it from Sierra Nelson who is this terms Words' Worth's Curator and has organized the reading:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Remembering Santos Rodriguez

Altar at El Centro de la Raza, Seattle (2015)

Do you know about Santos Rodriguez?  
I did not until Estela Ortega, Executive Director at El Centro de la Raza, explained the story of the 12 year old Dallas boy shot in the head in 1973 by a white Dallas police officer.  Santos and his brother were handcuffed and taken from their home to be questioned for the burglary of a gas station soda machine.  Santos was in the front seat of the patrol car where the officer showed him his gun loaded with only one bullet. The policeman demanded that Santos tell the truth or he would place the gun to his head. Santos denied any wrongdoing and the officer pulled the trigger twice. The first time nothing happened, but the second time, in front of his handcuffed brother, Santos was murdered. No evidence was found that the boys were involved in the theft.

El Centro de la Raza with the City of Seattle built a park in memory of Santos. Learn more about the Santos Rodriguez Memorial Park here

This November second, forty two years after Santos's murder, his mother, Bessie Rodriguez, and a delegation from Dallas came to El Centro to visit the park and to remember and honor Santos for Dia de los Muertos.

Here is the poem I wrote for the occasion.

Think of Santos
-- In memory of Santos Rodriguez

Since not anger, not prayers, nor protests
The clock can stop and prevent the bullet
Fired by a half man and his coward hand
And no brotherly love nor mother’s tears
Life into his lifeless body may inject
We who live yet must Santo’s life recall
His narrow shoulders, the milk of his teeth
Remember his tomorrows in each day
In children smiling on their way to school
Cherish and protect the things he didn’t get
When you say his name he lives inside you
Inside me live his truth, his hopes, his dread

So as the moon calls tides from her distant perch 
So may one day soon Santos and Justice merge.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seattle's Civic Poet

The Mayor's Art Awards at Seattle Center on September 4th was the site of my first official reading.
Here I am with Mayor Murray at the Chihuly Garden and Glass right before going onstage .

Photograph courtesy of Marcus Donner

Seattle’s Poem

Seattle is a house
on the comings
and goings
of water and wind
ripple of fish
feather of crow
early morning
ferry yawn

Seattle I say
and invoke
a man and a place
the two inseparable
not proportional
not parallel
but as language
is to poem
and salt to sea

I watch bridges, bicyclists, boats
summer blankets tendered
on public lawns
I watch fiery sunsets
tango and sway above jagged peaks
and autumn trees bursting gold
up and down hilly streets

Nevertheless before
I postcard and gloss
and more sunsets
and more trees
find their way into my lines
I must confess
the house’s foundation
is in places brittle
and many rooms are dark
for windows lack

Plenty have I been
on the receiving end
of rehearsed indifference
heard enough shallow
arguments on who belongs here
to wake up scooping
ocean water with a spoon
we are all here
that need to be

The city is concrete and steel
plus the sum of its people
every day we destroy
our house
then race to remake it
those narrow windows
block future’s view
mute voices
that need to be heard
muffle the sound
of the falling tree limb
heavy with ripe plums

Every day we tread
over Chief Sealth’s legacy
his prophetic words,
“At night when the streets
are silent (..) and you think
them deserted,
they will throng
with the returning hosts
that once filled them
and still love this land”

We are not alone
save for his people
we are all immigrants here
waiter, teacher,
artist, worker, nurse
we belong
all of us belong
Seattle is a house
we all need to afford

Claudia Castro Luna