Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NaPoWriMo #9: bones

I've got a thing for the Day of the Dead. It started in middle school when I read The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury. The skeletons creeped me out, but I was morbidly fascinated.

In my college Spanish class I had to do an oral report on some aspect of Hispanic culture, so I chose to do it about the Day of the Dead, and came across The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz. In Paz' treatise on the Mexican psyche, an entire chapter is devoted to the Day of the Dead, and it changed my point of view forever. In further studies in an Anthropology course on Aztec Thought and Culture I learned that the entire ninth month of the ancient Aztec calendar was set aside for honoring their dead, including one day devoted just to remembering children who had died. I don't think this was about compartmentalizing grief to just the observed period of time. Rather, it struck me as being a very emotionally healthy way to normalize coping and grieving.

I've been discussing with some moms in my playgroup lately about when and how to talk to kids about death, be it goldfish or grandparents. It's sad how our Western culture (Euro-North-American) is so paralyzed by its fixation on youth, fed by fear of death. I have great respect for a cultural tradition that teaches about death in the context of its part in a continuing cycle of being. Pardon the pun, but ¡viva día de los muertos!

Día de los Muertos

At first I failed to appreciate the
too sweet savor of a sugar skull
pungent brightness of scattered marigold petals
soft succulent bread with tender anise sprinkled crust
skeletons in frilly dresses riding their bicycles
but it was the ofrendas
oh, the ofrendas
decorated in lavish affection
with best beloved delicacies of those departed
chilis, tortillas, chocolate, tamales
each faded photo bathed in candlelight
they made me yearn to be so joyously mourned
made me see one day a year was not enough
to laugh in the gaping jaw
the hollow sockets of my own mortality
and revel in a comfortingly macabre sensibility
of death as an old friend.

1 comment:

chckkysmile said...

Wow, so visual and awesome!