Day of the Dead in Chamula Cemetery
Beth SpencerAt morning, mounds rise small above the shroud
of plastic wrappings, cups, and fallen glass
deserted by lost celebrants too drunk to mourn
or say their annual prayers. The unforgotten dead,
still fed and given drink, lie jacketed in gold
and orange beneath their smooth mud graves.
Worn planks or wooden doors laid flat, protect the graves
from those who would plod clumsily on sacred shrouds
laid green with pine, and the petals of the marigold.
Zapatistas offer Coke, or posh, or beer in amber glass
to me that I might join them, drink to their family’s dead.
Though not my sorrow, in the gully where she crawls I mourn
with the woman inching in between, who sobbing, mourns
her children, gone to accident and alcohol, buried in the graves
on either side. She dribbles Coke across the mound where lie the dead
and feeds the flames of thin clasped candles that she shrouds
from sudden wind with her dark and rounded back. An empty glass
is setting near, waiting for the mums of white and more, more marigolds.
I meet a man in sheepskin, his teeth outlined in gold
though he is barely sober even on this special morn.
In his hard-begotten English, he gestures with a glass
and offers me a tour of his abuelo’s grave:
a cross of turquoise, the proper dates in black, the shroud
of shredded marigolds and pine proper for the dead.
Sombrero-ed mariachis blare notes to rouse the dead.
Their gala suits emblazoned, not trimmed in gold
but silver buttoned down their legs. Their music shrouds
the pain of loss for all of those who mourn.
Families circled ‘round the loved one’s grave
eat favored meals and find comfort in a glass.
The living taste the candied skulls, sugar like spun-glass.
The usual bread of orange and anise nourishes the dead.
Faithful to tradition, each year they replicate grave
rituals to remember their departed with orange marigolds
and pine. Prayers chanted in the evening and the morn
like fog, cover and release them to an alcoholic shroud.
Glasses ready, October’s last sees graves are cleaned, the shroud
renewed. The dead departed are welcomed back into the morn
of one more year. Their graves refreshed and roofed in marigolds.
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