Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Day 2017

Autumn Thanks

We are gathered here today
to observe, not so much the end of the Fast
which continues to this day relentless,
the way ancient glaciers dragged
boulders across centuries.
The rumbling mass of injustice
fueled by greed that you sought to starve César,
still careens under western and eastern skies alike
extracting widows, homeless, mourners, sufferers
in the lamentable social strife
in which we find ourselves. 
Light wanes turning leaves fire and gold
revealing over horizon’s lip
the margins of our days.
Time it is to give thanks
for grandpa and grandma
sitting in the old living room sofa holding hands
waiting for their slice of apple pie
and for the cousins playing
their annual football game
in the park across the street.
We gather to acknowledge
our mothers’ lost hours,
lost on growing the alabaster
bones on which we stand.
We give thanks for ancestors
who came before us and lost,
for courageous walkouts
and for those who subsist
on malnourished minimum wage checks
for they will one day be relics
of our grinding, slow march
toward justice. 
If we in our days, put a fraction
of what bird puts into her song
we may yet reap a future
when injustice and war are the moraine
of our present, bitter, epoch.
We are gathered here today.

                                             Claudia Castro Luna

César Chavez – “We are gathered here today to observe, not so much the end of the Fast” from On Ending Fast – 1968
From participant’s notes Cascade Women’s Program - “grandpa and grandma

Abraham Lincoln – “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged” from Proclamation of Thanksgiving  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Giving Thanks

On the eve of this day -with all its historical implications and complications - I find myself in a space marked by overflowing gratitude. So much has happened for me this year from the good to very good from great to impossibly fantastic. Is that me to whom these things have happened?

Among the highlights: publishing a new book of poems, a mini book tour in Europe for an Anthology of Salvadoran writers, the successful culmination of my tenure as Seattle's Civic Poet with my Poetic Grid, a segment on the PBS Newshour, the publication of two stories in two separate and highly valued anthologies, and the appointment as WA State next Poet Laureate!!

I am thankful for all of it. For every recognition and for every opportunity to engage with folks, learning from them, sharing together the thing I love and for years was afraid to admit: writing and  poetry. Above all I am thankful for the health of family and friends and for my own health.

But most of all I am thankful for the gift of living; I am grateful for the chance to live. I was mulling these thoughts on my walk today when a gust of wind shook hundreds of golden leaves from a Japanese maple tree directly in front of me. I ran toward the spiralling leaves, to be part of their movement, to maybe catch one, the way kids  try to snap snowflakes on her tongues. I managed to loose every leaf I tried to grab, but turned behind me following the trajectory of a tiny one to the ground where it became mine. Behind me, above me, over me arched a rainbow. I would have never known it had I not ran to embrace life.

Claudia Castro Luna Named 2018-2020 Washington State Poet Laureate

Claudia Castro Luna Named 2018-2020 Washington State Poet Laureate: The Salvadoran-born, former Seattle Civic Poet is the first person of color to assume the role. She'll succeed Tod Marshall, whose term ends January 31.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dia de los Muertos = Dia de los Vivos

The dead descended from their heaven, crawled up from mother earth, swooshed down in the arms of sister wind to greet us, the living, on a cold November night in the heart of Beacon Hill in a place called El Centro de la Raza,  otherwise known as the Center of our Beloved Community. They came to visit, not in the heart of night, wrapped in shadows, purveying with fear their ghostly shapes, but in plain daylight, under bright incandescent and fluorescent lights, among throngs of people who on this day had come to El Centro to honor and remember them.

The dead pranced and danced in the throbbing bodies of the Aztec dance troop which, under unrelenting, if misty, freezing rain, performed for the the hundreds of us gathered for the evening.The Aztec dancers spun resilience, defiance, conviction and love until the incense, the calling of the drum, the rhythmic stomping of their feet, our gathered breath, became a river flowing to the ones that went before and flowing out to meet those who are yet to come.

Mesmerized on the sidelines, whirled into a vortex as if I myself were dancing, and inspired by the dancers' dazzling aliveness, their raw beauty, I began to laugh, an open bellied, full hearted laughter. There is no wall, no matter how well engineered, that can stop the flow of people responding to the call of life.

The dead danced for us through the bodies of the living - the steps, rhythms, movements passed down from one person to the next for hundreds and hundreds of years, through the glory of an empire, through the ruin of conquest, through the meanness of political expedience.

Spirit moves through brick, rock, steel. Power is transient. And inside sturdy bodies full of conviction the dead came to tell us they are here: in us.

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