"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Friday, November 02, 2007

Poetry Friday - El Altar - Dia de los Muertos 2007

This week's poetry Friday lands on All Saint's Day, the day AFTER Dia de los Muertos. Two years ago I wrote a poem celebrating the birth of my grandson Aiden and honoring my grandfather - Salvador Medina Camarillo who passed away from complications of cancer in 1987. The poem is called Cien Años - 100 years because his favorite saying was that he was going to live 100 years. He didn't quite make it but he was the strongest man I've ever known and battled cancer from the 1960s till the day he died. The year my grandmother died in 1984 - he had 7 major surgeries in one month and a few months later was out breaking concrete with a sledge hammer. You'd think that with such vitality and strength he'd be rough and gruff - but no, he was the gentlest, kindest man I've ever met. He believed in paying it forward, doing good just for the sake of doing it. He did the right thing simply because it was the right thing and never had an agenda. He and my grandmother Maria Guadalupe Gonzales Camarillo or Dona Lupe as she was known, would be proud of what all these bloggers are doing for Robert's Snow and I honor their memory with each post for it.

My Poetry Friday post is a Day of the Dead altar of sorts. I hope you enjoy this little taste of my culture. I welcome you to leave a little candle of a comment on this altar for your loved ones who have passed.

I've attached my Papa Chava's (that's what we called him) picture along with pictures and video of the Day of the Dead ceremony last night in Lincoln Park. Please keep in mind I was dancing so the video isn't very good.

Cien Años

“Cien años”
You would say
In that
Raspy, gruff
Yet curiously gentle
“Voy a vivir cien años”

“Naci en el 1900”
You’d tell me
As together we sat
In the patio filled with my
Grandmother’s plants
Canicas, marbles that
Lived in the bright
Green MJB
Coffee can

“Cien años”
Square, determined jaw
Resolute cara de nopal
Face of un indo
Beloved grandfather
Affectionately called

“Deje Mexico durante el revolucion”
Sadness and shadows
Flittering through your warm
Brown eyes
That must have seen
So much
Loss and pain
Brave, brown man
Strong and honest
A working man

“Cien años”
As we hoed the neat
Rows of
Corn, chiles, cilantro, tomate
Bright red strawberries
Freckled like me

“Conoci al Al Capone en Cheecago”
Proud, smiling lightly
As we picked the lemons, membrillo and laurel
Destined for Grandma’s kitchen
To become intoxicating smells
Of a distant land.
I learned of
The stockyards, the stench
Backbreaking work
Racism and hatred
He never once spoke of

“Cien años”
Rolling massive flour tortillas
In three quick thumps
Of the
Rolling pin
Sas! Sas! Sas!
And hands a perfectly round
White moon
To Grandma standing
At the comal

“Somos Aztecas, indios”
Crinkly eyes flashing
Big dimple showing
In your left cheek
Same as mine
Only deeper, much deeper
The “X” marks the spot
In a treasure map of a smile
As we watch
Los Voladores perform

“Cien años”
As you sat at the table
With the ever present
Playing cards
Shuffling with all the
Finesse of a Vegas dealer
And told me
Of the first time you worked
With your father
At age 3
And earned
Tres centavos
One you bought an olla with
Gave it and the remaining
To your mother

“No cobramos por ayuda”
Every time someone tried to pay
For the sobadas
By the healing hands
Of a sobador, a huesero
Those same hands
That carved a cherry stone
or a porous rock
into the face of a monkey

“Cien años”
Body racked with nausea
Losing your thick black hair
That asbestos-caused evil
From working in that place
That manufactured dishes
Gave you a turkey a year, Franciscanware
The apple pattern
Desert Rose
And the “Big C”

“Dios te lo pague, hija”
Each time I did something
For you
Or my Grandma
Out of love
For no other reason
But to lighten your load
Do something for those
That gave me so much

“Cien años”
As you kissed the
Forehead of your bride
Still in love
After decades of marriage
Dancing with her
To a bolero reminiscent of
Times past

“Tengo que trabajar”
After seven major surgeries
The month after
My grandmother’s death
As we tried to get
You to stop
The hard muscle
Of your indio labor
Tucked under the wrinkled
Mask of frailty

“Cien años”
When the hospital
Sent you home to die
A thin man hiding his
Looking like
A woodcut
By Guadalupe Posada

“No tengo hambre”
As I parade your favorite foods
Chicharones en chile verde
Frijoles del olla
Burnt blackened tortillas
I never understood
Why you liked them that way
Almost 86
On that April Fools
Sunny day
I called to see how you were
And found you had gone
To Mictlan
"Fitting", I said
As I held my children and cried
Fitting for the practical joker
You were

A great, great grandson
Came backwards into this world
Bearing your name – Salvador
In the Aztec veintena of
The Offering of the Flowers

In his name
Aidan Cesar Salvador Ehecatlpochtli
I gift to you this
Flower, this poem
This bittersweet tear
May you live on
In our memories, our stories
Our hearts and dreams
Por much mas que
“Cien años”

I began my Dia de los muertos early. I put in almost a full day of work at the office and then hopped a train to downtown L.A.'s Union Station. Once there, I walked through the train station at a fast clip carrying my bag of regalia. I crossed the street and walked through Placita Olvera - or Olvera Street. I took a few pictures of the altars there (more on that in another post). I ran across the street, swept through the inner plaza of La Placita - the oldest Catholic Church in Los Angeles, took pictures there and ran to catch a bus to Lincoln Park - Plaza de la Raza. I was lucky, the bus came within five minutes and I arrived at Parque de Mexico just in time to help set up the main altar.

This is some of the guys putting up a banner of Emiliano Zapata.

The main altar

The pungent smell of marigolds and copal perfumed the air as we worked together in harmony. I saw dear old friends, children who had played with my children now had children of their own. We worked hard and laughed a lot. We did the usual helping each other with headresses and regalia, admired each others handiwork and chatted away till the conch shells and drums called us to circle. Then we danced.

This is me in my regalia right before we entered the circle.

Dancing is praying for us. We dance in a circle. The main altar in the center belongs to our muertitos - that's where they dance. We danced for hours, well into the the night. Some of us took breaks but most did not. We danced in the four directions, giving honor to each. We prayed to Father Sky and bent down to Mother Earth. Rattles shook, drums were beating, flutes were playing, costumes and feathers were swirling. We honored our ancestors, we prayed on this sacred and holy night. We prayed. We honored. We kept our culture alive.

Some of the drummers.

The Virgen de Guadalupe is special to us.

We are the Mexica, we are Azteca, we are indigenous, indios, we are the sacred corn. We are devout people, devout to the religions of our choice, devout to our traditions, devout in our love of patria (country) and of our homeland. There is a prayer we say at the end of each ceremony that talks about how we are the sacred corn.

When I'm standing there exhausted after dancing for hours in prayer, when my senses are filled with copal smoke, drum beats and that otherworldy sense of sacred space, when I'm there with my face pointing to the sky, hands and arms raised to the heavens, when I'm saying this prayer aloud with 100 other dancers - then I know that we have something precious, a treasure in our culture and that it will live on forever so please don't ask me to assimilate and don't think I'm un-American because I love who I am. I stand on the strong roots of my past, I dance with my ancestors and I am so proud to be a Mexica woman.

Ometeotl. The round up is at Mentor Texts, Read Aloud and More. Thanks for hosting on this special day!


p dog said...

Wow. Just... wow! How amazing to be part of something so primal and important and fun and beautiful at the same time.

Plus, the headdress... wow!

SamR said...

That was great! Thank you so much for sharing that!

jama said...

What a beautiful, touching poem. You wrote it with so much heart and love. Thanks for sharing part of your culture, too.

Kelly Fineman said...

Lovely, Gina. Your poem to your grandfather was gorgeous. Did he really know Al Capone?

And your post about el Dìa de los Muertos was really excellent, too.

TadMack said...

When we were at Mills, the school had an altar, and it was the most awesome thing -- it started small, and ended up this huge, complex mememto mori that was so touching. Thank you so much for sharing this, Gina. It's really beautiful as is the poem.

Se puede vivir cien años!

Gina MarySol Ruiz said...

Thank you all. Kelly - I'm not sure he really knew him but my grandfather never lied. If he said he met him, then he met him. Whether or not he knew him well is a different story and one I doubt I will ever know.

Check out the rest of the day of the dead posts and photos - I put up two more posts loaded with images.

Sara said...

I savored every line of your poem. It was heartfelt and dignified and funny and sad...everything your grandfather must have been. Thank you for letting me meet him.

And the rest of the post: I'll echo the wows. When you said, "dancing is our prayer," I thought: sign me up for that church.

Crispus Attucks said...

Thank you, Gina. Everyone of your posts is an experience that I treasure.