When a poem takes the stage

Claudia Castro Luna’s book Killing Marias is subtitled A Poem for Multiple Voices. Each page addresses the lost life of one of the women or girls disappeared and murdered in Juárez, Mexico on the other side of the border from El Paso, Texas.

Claudia invited me, writer Catalina Cantú, and dancer Milvia Pacheco to share in voicing the Marias for two staged readings of Killing Marias, made possible with the production assistance of Jim Cantú.


Before the first performance on October 21, we gathered at the Rainier Arts Center one evening for rehearsal.  It was a rainy night. Inside, the theater was cold. The house was dark and the seats were empty. We – the readers, the dancer, and the musicians Trío Guadalevín – were positioned in a semicircle. We ran through the recitation of poems on a half-lit stage.

As someone who writes strictly prose, I often find poetry daunting. But I know enough to understand that the words demand to be read out loud. It’s by sounding out the words, honoring their position on the page, seeing where the line breaks happen, that you find yourself inhabiting them. When there was uncertainty, Claudia coached us, giving us IMG_20181021_131347context and perspective. We wanted our voices to serve the words, to honor the trust Claudia had in us to say them. We wanted to honor the Marias.

During that rehearsal, on stage without an audience, we read and sometimes reread poems, searching for the best effect, the deepest truth, when the words become images become feeling become awareness. The musicians tried out which song was most appropriate to the mood of a particular poem. The dancer let the music guide her movements. It felt to me like magic – poetry, music and dance in a graceful conspiracy to raise the voices of abused and murdered women.

We were reading poems about the Marias, we were women reading the Marias, we were the Marias. That was the rehearsal, and I wondered what the performances would be like.

IMG_20181021_131408It was a sunny fall afternoon for the first of performance on Sunday, October 21. The sun streamed through the windows above the drawn drapes, so the theater was only semi-dark. Still, with the house lights dimmed and the stage lit to feature the readers and musicians and to shimmer upon Milvia when she danced, the atmosphere was elegiac. It was also made celebratory with paper flowers created and lovingly arranged on the stage by Evonne and Quiauxochitl Martinez.

The power of Claudia’s words, the fervor in Milvia’s dancing, the deeply rooted rhythms of Trío Guadalevín were capped by the recitation of the names of the Marias by members of the audience. Those of us on stage and those in the audience were united in this this act of remembrance. It was this reclaiming of women’s lives that is the purpose of the Killing Marias production.


The second performance is November 4, 2 PM at Centilia Cultural Center. Please join us.

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