For Claudia Castro Luna, nothing transports her back to her native El Salvador more quickly, and more vividly, than then pupusa. It’s the unofficial national dish of El Salvador, consisting of a think corn tortilla wrapped around a rich filling.
But for Castro Luna, Seattle’s first civic poet, the pupusa contains more than pork, cheese and beans. It contains the history of the country of her birth, and of her journey away from it.
She writes, in her poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pupusa”: "We eat War. / Each time / A Pupusa is made / War sloughs off / Undetected and unmeasured / Residues / Unstable atoms, half-lives."
“My aunt makes Pupusas for a living / She labors over a hot comal / Gun shrapnel / From the Civil War years / Encrusted in the flesh of her strong legs.”
She talks about how food carries history and energy with it.
“Even though the [Salvadoran civil] war officially ended in ‘92, we’re still living in the aftermath of that war,” Castro Luna said. “In the touching and the shaping of the dough, the masa, as we call it, that war gets transferred by the contact of the skin, of the person making it.”
For Castro Luna, who immigrated to the United States when she was 14, food can transport her back to El Salvador, and to the complicated feelings those memories evoke.
“I think food is the primordial way in which we feel connected to place,” she said.
Castro Luna’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pupusa” will be featured in the Latin America/Latino interdisciplinary studies journal Diálogo 19:2 issue, released in Fall (September) 2016. Here is an excerpt, of the first five stanzas:
Among the photographs in the Sunday paper
Of a week-end in Boston
The one right below Paul Revere’s statue
The one of a white plate with two Pupusas.
I am certain
Birds fly, and
Once in Coatepeque
I saw a woman
On a quite street corner
Setting up a Pupusa stall
A car went by,
Dust from the unpaved road
Gained height, whirled
It was December
Along a white washed adobe wall
Tall poinsettias burst
Scarlet and rich
In the late evening sun.
My aunt makes Pupusas for a living
She labors over a hot comal
From the Civil War years
Encrusted in the flesh of her strong legs.
Tarde o temprano
Sooner or later
Speak of Salvadorans
Speak of Pupusas.