Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Sad skull thinking

una ofrenda

Last night I dreamed I threw away a stone.
I saw your face as it once was, mi corazón.
I  cleaned my eyes with tears and looked again.
A jack o lantern skull without a scar,
dia de los muertos tatooed with a sugar pen
on una calavera de azúcar.

A bite of memory’s all,
sweet but very small

You talked como en tiempos pasados.
Ever lively wagged that old chewed string
you had for tongue, risueño.
What else to do but sing
una canción recordada?
Raul, mi amor perdido,

A verse with no retort,
sweet but very short.

I left you there, el jefe, top of the stack
boss of the clay colored catacomb,
talking to the rifled coffins on the floor
muy cómodo in your new home
that goes forever back and back
to somewhere no one lives anymore.

To throw a stone to another world,
not bad for a white girl,
after all.

September 2011 

Quick and Dirty Process Notes/Translation:

"The word calavera, Spanish for "skull", can refer to a number of cultural phenomena associated with the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead[Dia de los Muertos] and the Roman Catholic holiday All Souls Day.
  • calaveras de azúcar ("sugar skulls") are used to adorn altars and can be eaten.
  • calaveras are poems, written for the Day of the Dead but intended to humorously criticize the living.
  • calavera can refer to any artistic representations of skulls, such as the lithographs of José Guadalupe Posada." ~wikipedia
una ofrenda: offering left for the dead 
como los tiempos passados: like old times una canción recordada: a remembered song
perdido: lost   desaparecido: vanished    risueño:smiling, sunny
el jefe: boss   muy cómodo: quite comfortable

My command of Spanish is middling and informal so please correct me if you believe I've misused that most beautiful of languages anywhere here. 

For those interested, here is the canción recordada the narrator sings in the catacomb:

Image: Sad Skull Thinking(Calavera triste, pensando) 



  1. Joy,
    Very educational and very informative. I love it!


  2. It took awhile to glean out the translations but I find it both sad in its past, a short but good relation ended, gone but accepting in the present as relating to the Day of the Dead. Liked the sugar alter though eating any of it would probably send me into a glucose coma, then it would be my skull below El Jeffe!

  3. That's a sweet way to remember the dead and gone, the kind you want to leave there. But the song is bringing back my memories ... Go figure! :-)

  4. A long road down the Indo-European languages for me here back to Spain and Celtic forebears with their vivid sense that the dead live very close to us ... I loved the notion that a "calaveras" is a poem by the dead to satirize the living and makes me remember how old Irish poets (who migrated from Spain) could be such nasty satirists that their lyrics were sometimes likened to the buzzing of flies. Dreams, death, skull-oracles, poems, language the tomb of the Muses buried in the heart creaking open and giving whiffs of the old old heavy history, personal and collective. That this is a skull-candy laid at the altar (of Love, I presume) makes the words that much sweeter on the tongue. Death-sweet, I suppose ... You some gringa. The Puerto Ricans in my Chicago high school got all the pretty white girls, dancing like synchronized switchblades to Malo and Santana .. - Brendan

  5. I liked the way you did this! It is very good.

  6. just because i took a couple years of spanish 1...hehe...i really like those closing lines...it left me with a smile...the dead leave us with only memories...we can choose to shout at them on love on them for the sweet moments...

  7. Witch. This broke my heart, but so skillfully and beautifully that all I can do is sigh and read it again. I find Spanish to be perhaps the most poetic language...my command of it is surely worse by far than yours, and yet, two of my favorite and most inspiring poets wrote in Spanish--Neruda and Lorca, to whom you introduced me.

    I'm well familiar with dia de los muertos, having lived in south Texas for six years. It makes a wonderful framework for poetry, but you have delved deeper and put not just bones, but so much heart into your altar here. A couple of years ago there was a blogdom-wide celebration of the day...people made altars and posted about them. It was amazing. It was *soulful*. It really was.

    The couplets, particularly, are perfect. I know you scorn gushing in comments, but I can't help myself. Blame the sugar skulls. This is one of your best.

  8. PS--my post today, which I wrote and put up before coming here, has a Spanish title. I had changed it at the last moment. Great minds think alike...?

  9. Oh dear, scorn gushing, I'm terribly embarrassed but I guess I haven't been able to help myself. I'll try to contain my enthusiasm, really, not puppy lick everything in sight ;). Your offering sings sweetly, with an aching timbre, sugared but crisp at the edges of pain. 'forever and back to somewhere no one lives anymore' is poetic manna. I love the full circle return to the thrown stone.

  10. A beautiful write, Hedge. I, too, love the stone at beginning and end. And LOVE "I cleaned my eyes with tears and looked again." Sigh. Such glorious writing.

  11. Thank you, ladies and germs--this was supposed to be a lighter piece, but hey, not my strong suit. ;-) I have a huge task waiting for me to get something ready for tonight's OLN, so I will answer everyone more later--but I'll just say to Anna and Fireblossom both that you never gush in a way that doesn't make me warm and fuzzy and stuff, so don't worry.

  12. Dear Joy Ann: "not bad for a white girl"...indeed! :)

  13. Magnifico poema ... precioso mujer!!!

  14. The first gift my love gave to me was a little Mexican figurine of a kneeling skeleton with his head in a guillotine. I put it in my coat and it fell apart. Glued it back together and today he stands behind glass in my bookcase. She was so sweet. She thought I was too melancholy and said, "See, you can't kill him, he's already dead!" Later I traveled to the southwest and learned about dia de los muertos, so beautiful and fascinating. I love the idea of writing a Calavera, and the fact that you wanted to write something lighter only makes your poem more beautiful in my eyes.

  15. Sigh...this is beautiful...sweet ...I cleaned my eyes with tears and looked again-love it!

  16. @Mark: in Mexico, with an old love, we bought for my son back home a figure of a black-robed, skeletal Charon, rowing a very mexicano soul over the River Styx, blue painted wood bottom of a mirrored black shadowbox. Charon's head has fallen off several times and been reglued, but he's rowing still. So your love's saying is proved here as well. And nothing cheers you up like a good calavera. Thanks for reading


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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