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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2007, vol 3 no 2

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Jeffrey Woodward

 

Day of the Dead

An unseasonably mild and warm late October afternoon. I'm on my lunch hour and note how many businessmen and office workers carry their jackets and loosen their ties.

Halloween is near. I work in Southwest Detroit, however, in a neighborhood that is largely Mexican and Spanish-speaking with the rhythms of meringue echoing from the discoteca, the aroma of fresh bread from the panadería or hot tamales from a nearby taqueria.

That's not what I'm in search of today, however. The approach of Halloween also means the approach of that distinctive Mexican celebration of All Saints' Day, the Day of the Dead, when holy candles are lit and meals are offered to the spirits of the departed.

I'm fascinated by this pervasive cult of death that even the conquistadores could not wholly efface from the soil and blood of Mexico's aboriginal inhabitants, this cult that is, as Antonin Artaud remarked, both seductive and terrifying.

I find what I am looking for soon enough in the window of a gift shop that specializes in Hispanic clothing items, trinkets and souvenirs. There they are, prominently displayed, the miniature tableaus in which the Day of the Dead is enacted. I look over the scenes in which the calaveras, the skeletons, in every sort of attire gaily mimic the affairs of the living: a skeleton bride and groom, a skeleton piano player and skeleton dancers, two skeleton federales with a grinning skeleton prisoner and so on. I am attracted and repulsed. So, I continue to come and visit these tableaus frequently while never buying one.

I note, however, that the various men in suits and women in business attire have straightened their clothing, have lost their casual air on this beautiful autumn day and are busily heading back to work. My lunch hour, too, is over and so I must go. Before I do, I glance one last time at a tableau in the window:

a skeleton, too,
tugs at a tie's knot ---
Día de los Muertos