1 November – All Saints Day
DAY OF THE DEAD RAIN
Rain falls off the roofs
Rain moves across the street
like ocean waves.
A yellow dog stops
in the middle of the road,
looks around bewildered.
Beneath a bright green umbrella,
a mother cradles her child on her hip,
carries a plastic bucket with flowers.
The wind dies
for a moment …
the scents of marigolds
mums, gladioli drift by …
their hollow tin-clang
is carried away.
Children huddle beneath
the roof eaves of the tortillería.
The smell of fresh tortillas
is lost on the strong wind.
trot across a dirt lot
seeking shelter from the storm.
Lightning slices the sky
like disappearing scars …
I found a dead scorpion
in the bath water.
Families will carry the buckets filled with gladioli,
mums & marigolds to the cemeteries.
They will pull the weeds from the graves,
carefully place wreaths of paper & those flowers.
The brujos will wander these streets—
everything will be closed against their presence.
Teenage students will disguise themselves
stop anyone out, demand money—or assault them.
Two teenage girls, huddled under a yellow tarp,
their sandals kicking up rain from the road,
carry home hot tortillas wrapped in pink paper.
poem © Lorraine Caputo
2 November – All Soul’s Day, Día de los Difuntos
Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz
The morning dawns with a rain. Not really a rain rain, not really a garúa rain. Something in between. It ends & the day grows humid as we enter this four-day weekend. Today is Día de los Difuntos — Day of the Dead — & tomorrow the city of Cuenca’s Independence Day.
The woman who runs the dry-goods store at the station told me the mass will be at 10 a.m. in the cemetery; she’ll be there to clean her mother-in-law’s tomb.
(How do traditions transfer to a new place, a place without indigenous or native human populations, is one Galapagan facet that has been fascinating me.)
The cemetery is surrounded by a white wall that flows like the sea. Sometimes the stuccoed waves part to reveal a bit of the world within. On the street out front the graveyard gate, vendors are displaying wreaths of plastic & foil flowers, silk bouquets, candles, packs of palo santo incense. Others are just beginning to set up, to hoist blue tarps against the still-cloudy sky.
Within the undulating walls, tombs are being whitewashed. The black lettering of names, of dates is being freshened with a steady (or sometimes trembling, but loving) hand. The perfume of paint drapes in the humid breeze.
In front of one grave, always barefoot, always bare-chested Lobo Marino (so he calls himself) is standing with others with a family from the mainland Sierra. The woman wears a length of dark velvet wrapped around her waist & tied off with a faja, in the traditional way. A pinned-back dark-blue cloth upon her head hides her hair, many ropes of golden beads drapes her neck. The man has his greying hair pulled back in a pigtail; indigenous cloth sandals cover his feet. Their heads are bowed. He looks up & cries, What he would want, what we need is music to give him!
(How does this new species, Homo sapiens, adapt to its new environment? What traditions are continued? How are they adapted to a new environment? Cultural adaptation, cultural evolution.)
With a damp rag, man wipes the dust from that tiled tomb there. With a leafy branch, a woman brushes the dirt from this one near the mound of rocks upon which I sit. The bouquets are placed, the wreaths hung on simple gravestone crosses. Candles are lit. The flames dance, perhaps extinguishing in the breeze reviving, dancing, disappearing.
I share cookies with two children & their mother visiting her husband’s tomb. A small basket of overflowing with purple, orange, pink silk flowers leafed in plastic rests in front his name. She stoops to light a single taper. They leave e’er the mass begins.
The altar beneath a tree has been spread with a white lace-trimmed cloth. A man strums a guitar. The purple-albed priest calls those present for the Eucharist. The small choir begins to sing.
Other families arrive during the mass, setting to the task of cleaning & decorating of these final resting places. The adults — wives or husbands, sons or daughters — are seriously intent. The children look ‘round. Some seem a bit lost in these Day of the Dead traditions, some of them seem bored.
In front of a gayly painted tomb is the family of Ozumi. The size of this monument belies the infant cradled within. Mami’s, Papi’s & her siblings’ handprints decorate the sides. The bougainvillea harbor shades them from this tropical sun flickering through the clouds. & here I am, yet perched atop this mound of rocks partly buried beneath faded plastic, foil, silk flowers. A garishly blushed female lava lizard rustles the leaves. Fnches peck through the brush at my feet. The wind rises for a moment, seeming to beckon another shower this morning. A solidifying river of wax now anchors that candle to that wife’s, those children’s loved one’s grave. The flame yet fades, yet revives in the closing morn.
After sunset I return. The tide washes, washes only several hundred feet away. Outside the cemetery, on benches & curbs, a family shares their repast.
I stop at a stall still set up outside the cemetery gate. No, the woman says in a quiet voice, the guagua de pan is all gone. I sip a colada morada as I enter the yard, chewing on the chunks of pineapple, spitting the spicy clove seeds into my hand.
Many more graves are brighter under the haze of a three-quarter-full moon. In the sheltered niches of tomb façades, candles waltz & bow on a gusting breeze. Murmurs of families drift through the worn twilight. Beyond row & row of sites, glasses clink against a bottle. A child’s chuckling laugh further beyond. & singing.
A family of women stands at one monument near the front wall. I promise, I promise her I shall finally…, says one. A sea of tears washes her face shadowed by moon, by clouds, by candlelight. She then strokes the façade, strokes the newly blacked letters before crossing herself & steeping beyond the gate into the new night.
text © Lorraine Caputo
Though for most locales the holiday ended 2 November, in Coroico, Bolivia (96 kilometers from La Paz), it is just beginning.
No-one knows precisely why this village on the edge of the Nor Yungas jungle celebrates El Día de los Muertos on 3 – 4 November. But on those days, you’ll hear the revelry echoing up the road into town, all day and throughout the night.
On 8 November, in La Paz’ Cementerio General, Día de las Ñatitas
So, let’s head down to Coroico to celebrate El Día de los Muertos with them.
DYING YUNGAS MOON
The near-full moonlight
seeps through quilted clouds
a pure-white orb.
The dusk thunder that
had rolled through these
deep jungle valleys
Its lightning still pulses white
The eclipsing moon now
& again glimpsed
through the seams
of this night’s sky.
Until she is smothered
beneath a shower.
All Soul’s Eve
I pirouette beneath
the waning moon,
a brilliant pearl
rent cotton-wool clouds
silhouetted midnight blue,
In the dead hours
On the Día de los Muertos
waifly fog drifts
through the village.
Phantom palm trees sway
in their swift
The moon, the stars,
the mountains invisible.
& once departed,
the light of this near-half moon
To the solitary song
of a cricket,
Lightning & thunder vibrate
through the cloud-
of stars &
The valleys, the
echo with the music
of villagers feasting
with the dead.
poem © Lorraine Caputo