Claudia Castro Luna, Cipota under the Moon

CIPOTA UNDER THE MOON, Claudia Castro Luna. Tia Chucha Press, PO Box 328, San Fernando, CA 91341, 2022, 118 pages, $19.95 paper,

I blogged about Claudia Castro Luna’s This City, in 2020, while she was still Washington Poet Laureate. This year I meant to read and write a post about her book, Killing Marías: A Poem for Multiple Voices. Instead I came across her 2022 book, Cipota under the Moon, and I am so astonished by it I hardly know what to say. It is a heart-breaking, multi-lingual full-immersion experience in El Salvador—war, exile, and return. In “This Is Not a Poem,” Castro Luna begins, “Guerra doesn’t go away when the bullets stop, when the grenades go silent, when helicopters’ blades no longer kick up…,” and ends: “I highly don’t recommend it.”

I highly recommend this book.

In the early minutes of her Ted Talk, Castro Luna talks about her family’s journey, and the amazing human ability to heal from trauma.

At the Tia Chucha Press website, I found this description:

In Cipota under the Moon, Claudia Castro Luna scores a series of poems as an ode to the Salvadoran immigrant experience in the United States. The poems are wrought with memories of the 1980s civil war and rich with observations from recent returns to her native country. Castro Luna draws a parallel between the ruthlessness of the war and the violence endured by communities of color in US cities; she shows how children are often the silent, unseen victims of state-sanctioned and urban violence. In lush prose poems, musical tankas, and free verse, Castro Luna affirms that the desire for light and life outweighs the darkness of poverty, violence, and war. Cipota under the Moonis a testament to the men, women, and children who bet on life at all costs and now make their home in another language, in another place, which they, by their presence, change every day.

Here’s an example form the poems before immigration:


Two girls slinked alongside barb-wired brick walls on their way to swimming lessons, doing their best to remain collected past the turrets stationed with armed soldiers. Ensconced in their look-outs, the troopers held their metralletas close to their bodies, as if they loved them, but not so much they would not use them ill. After our lesson, we headed home the same way we walked to the pool, guillotining chatter and laughter, scurrying along the garrison’s walls. Only the sound of our flip-flops striking our heels betrayed us. What if today’s soldiers were in a foul mood and pulled their triggers? What if they noticed our bulging bags, our weekly comings and goings, and tagged us as informants? What if, right leg, what if, left leg, we got through it that way—like prayers in a rosary—one bead, one foot in front of the other, one bead, one foot, one bead, one foot all the way home.

—Claudia Castro Luna

And here, a poem during and after:

Cloven Moon

The officer in charge of processing my family’s entrance to the U.S. stated that from that moment on my name was to be Claudia Castro. The passport says her name is Claudia Castro Luna, my mother objected. Here we use one last name, said the officer, and closed the matter with the gavel of his voice. Your moon got taken away from you, said my friend when I recounted the story. But when the officer eclipsed the Luna of my name the sensation was more like having a limb chopped off. For years I walked like that, cloven, until pen in hand, I began to weave into blank pages tamales de elote, scent of yerbabuena, spells of flor de muerto, the riot of a Tuesday market in Ahuachapán, the Nahuatl sageness of my abuela. I did not know then that weaving like this, warp of memory, weft of daring, had the power to sew back the name chopped off at an INS center on a January morning in 1981. All I know is that one day I walked into a Social Security office, took a number, and waited my turn to expand the canon of last names in this country. I pilgrimaged the department of motor vehicles, registrars’ offices, bank-teller windows, and once La Luna hung again in the firmament of my name, its light spilled beneath my skin and filtered back into the open mouths of a million pores.

—Claudia Castro Luna

Most of the poems are prose poem. A few are in El Salvadoran Spanish. Even the poems reaching back to the Eden of early childhood seem tainted, overshadowed by war. On every page, I was struck by the metaphors. “the sulphur reek of his step” (“Shade Grown”); “Violence spread like tincture inside a water glass” (“El Salvador 1980”); in a long poem, “Dios Madre,” these lines, “Cupped in his hands / his ten-year-old daughter / in her school uniform / passed from smiling / to hardened concrete.”

I hope you will further explore Castro Luna’s work on your own. Here is a review:

And here, a link to a one-hour interview and reading from Cipota under the Moon:

Claudia Castro Luna

Among my busy calendar of Poetry Zoom events this week, I was able to attend Tracing the Maps, a poetry reading hosted by Seattle’s Hugo House, featuring Carolyne Wright, Claudia Castro Luna, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, and Raúl Sánchez. (It is not available as a recording, but it should be.)

I had heard three of the poets in person, over the years, but I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard our Washington Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, read her work. And I was, frankly, blown away. The woman has such presence and poise, and remarkable, memorable poems full of striking and eye-opening images.

I recently bought a copy of her 2016 chapbook from Floating Bridge Press: this city, a collection of 19 prose poems and an introduction, “Invitation.” If you aren’t yet familiar with her work, here’s a sample to introduce you:

Aerial Equivalent

Each night evening lights, like birthday cake candles, draw out their
last breath. Curtains close over windows in hill homes and in seedy
motel rooms where families too live week to week. From thousands of
hushed, slumbering bodies the unspoken loosens up, levitates. Wishes,
anxieties, and aversions reach the heavens. They fly over the east, over
the west, by way of the north, circling hills and downtown. A formless
psychic soup occupies the aerial equivalent of the city below. Slowly an
invisible city coalesces, imperfect but peaceful, unlike its terrestrial
twin. By daybreak the buoyant city crumbles. Its detritus unadorned
and lodged in unsuspecting throats.

–Claudia Castro-Luna, from this city (Floating Bridge Press, 2016)

You can read more about Claudia at her website, (see link above) or at

Holly J. Hughes

HOLD FAST, Holly J. Hughes. Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes, Washington 98221, 2020, 115 pages, $16 paper,

Rereading Hold Fast made my day. Among other superlatives I can offer about this collection, it’s a perfect book to hole up with during a pandemic. I knew this before Claudia Castro Luna, writing for The Seattle Times, closed her editorial (“Sheltering in Place, Our Inner Poet Soars”) with Hughes’s poem, “Holdfast.” (Click on the link to read Castro Luna’s wise words.)

One paradox of these poems is the way Hughes manages a deft and powerful critique of the world, while celebrating it: “all that can’t be said…./ the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down / to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, / the unseen, the unheard, the fragile….” (“If the River”).

And the epigraphs! This one, amid others:

If there is a world, let me be in it.
Let fires arise and pass…
Let the old hopes be made new.
Let stacks of clouds blacken if they have to
but never let the people in this town go hungry….
If there is a world where we feel very little,
let it not be our world.

Joanna KlinkExcerpts from a Secret Prophecy

It was difficult to choose just one poem to share. But I think this one:

Against Apocalypse

No more crying over spilt milk, turned wine, over rain
that won’t fall, over calendar pages leafing in the wind

as decades blow past, wind that once lifted tenderly
each blade of grass now taking down towns.

Meanwhile, the earth spins on her axis, day and night arrive
on schedule, but seasons on strike, certainties flown

with the birds, ocean lapping, hungry at the shore.
Why do so few say it: the end of the world at hand. 

Still we post photos of risotto, take selfies
at the beach of our bodies buried in the sand.

We hunker down with YouTube, binge
on Netflix, take up Zumba. Meanwhile

politicians lead us like lemmings for the cliffs,
while the rest freeze in future’s brights.

Meanwhile, the earth keeps spinning. Sun rises & sets.
Civilizations come & go. We won’t be the first,

though we may be the last. But remember your neighbor,
who showed up with a pot of chicken soup, still steaming,

the day you lost power. Another who shoveled you out,
drove you to the ferry in his battered four-wheel drive.

Who knows what’s ahead: fast burn or slow freeze,
asteroids, black holes, exploding galaxies?

If someday none of us can see the sun,
remember this: the world you want to inhabit.

I’m so glad to be in the world amid these poets and these books. Thank you for reading along with me.