“In the airport sterile setting, I considered the honey of things. How much time would have to past before I walk next to my Papa once more. How is it that we overlook what is important, value the wrong things. What would they say about the meaning of grief if I asked them. The bees who turned sun fire into edible jam.”
This is an excerpt from “Ask the Bees” a poem written by Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro-Luna. She tells how a piece of treasure from her homeland was seized while traveling home to Seattle.
Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford, also read that day. His first of three poems were written for Castro-Luna, titled, “For the Customs Agent Who Seized Claudia’s Jar of Honey from El Salvador.”
“When we were in Seattle together, Claudia told me this sad but beautiful story about purchasing a jar of honey in El Salvador,” Stafford said. “When she got to the border the customs agent said, ‘I must seize that.’ so the customs agent took it and so I wrote this poem for Claudia.”
The Columbia Writer Series invited Castro-Luna and Stafford to read, Jan 31.
The esteemed Poet Laureate position offers Castro-Luna the opportunity to travel all over Washington as a literary ambassador.
Castro-Luna escaped the civil war in her birthplace, El Salvador, in 1981. She began her high school experience in the US, unable to speak a single word of English.
Published in 2017, she created a series of poems collected in a book titled, “Killing Marias: A Poem for Multiple Voices,” where she writes about the disappearance of women in Juarez; presenting images through her words, to the struggle they endured. All of her poems in her book have the name Maria, whom Castro-Luna has written these poems for. With the success of this book, she is now able to accomplish one of her hopes.
“I told myself that if this book ever gets published, that my proceeds will go to an organization on the border fighting for women’s rights. In March, I am meeting with a lawyer,” Castro-Luna said. “I am handing her my first royalty check.”
38 years have passed and Castro-Luna, using both Spanish and English in her poetry, writes and teaches in Seattle, enjoying life with her husband and three children.
Ending the event, Castro-Luna read a poem with Stafford which is one of the few she has translated from Spanish to English.
A country with borders of bread.
A country where I can walk without fear.
A country where laws taste like milk.
A country where walls don’t bring tears.
A country where hope is not a fiction.
A country where hunger is thin.
A country where children don’t rot in jails.
A country whose flag no one needs to defend.
A country whose heart is his coin.
A country where war is not even in art.
A country where days begin with song.
That is where I want to belong.
That is where I want to belong.”
Castro-Luna currently is working on her memoir, “Like Water to Drink,” which tells of her experience escaping El Salvador during the times of the civil war.