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The art of the calavera

Messages of mortality

Like all people, Mexicans do not welcome Death. But unlike other cultures, Mexicans stare down Death. They make fun of it, play with it and make it familiar enough to forget about.

It’s this familiarity with Death that other cultures find so uncanny.

In the Día de los Muertos rituals of Mexico, Death and the dead are represented through altars, food, drink, photos, art, music and literature.

The calavera, or skull, is the symbol of the day, its grinning image depicted in windows, sweet bread, candy and masks.

But in Mexican culture the calavera has different meanings. One expression is an ironic epitaph of a relative, a friend, or a personality of the day. They are printed on paper and decorated with skulls or skeletons.

The printer and political satirist Jose Guadalupe Posada popularized calaveras during the early 1900s. His calaveras in graphic form or words targeted the poor, the rich, and the politician.

In Posada’s tradition, we asked our writer and artist amigos y amigas for a contribution of calaveras. These poems poke fun at situations and politicians, and some are musings on Death itself.

Because as we all know, to Death, everyone is fair game.


I place myself before the ofrenda
whose flickering candles
and incienso de copal
illuminate la noche estrellada
like a solitary burning fire under
the open sky.

Its source of bright energia is released
feeding the eternal flame of humanity.
Darkness and luz
birth – muerte – re-birth
tending the burning embers that glow
like precious jewels.

We pray like
nuestros antepasados por siglos
have done
so that we may never forget
those who have gone before us
and have brought us to this place
to the here and now.

Como la campazuchil, I too shall wither
And die according to the laws of the universe.

I will have had my momento
en el tiempo y en el espacio
donde nace la vida and then
return a nuestra madre la tierra.

Within ourselves lives la semilla
for the continuance of life.
Each seed carries with it our past
y nos une con el futuro long after our
footsteps have disappeared from the sands.

The old inevitably makes way for the new
but we must always remember that sacrifice
undertaken by countless souls
who preceded us.

We, cada uno,
Must prepare ourselves
To follow sin amargura,
Without struggle,
With peace in our heart
Con humildad en el alma
For this is our destino.

By Rev. Jorge Rodriguez Eagar


Are there veto stamps in heaven?

No pioneer woman has ever been her match.
Quicker on the draw then Wyatt Earp,
she stamps her VETO on anything and everything
that isn’t good for Arizona,
Not good for kids, VETO,
Not good for seniors, VETO,
Not good for educators, VETO,
Not good for Arizona’s economy VETO,
and the stamping goes on
bringing smiles to Janet Napolitano,
Arizona’s 21st Governor

Stamp on Governor Napolitano,
through seasons dry,
rattlers at your heels,
rope them doggies and
hard-headed cowhands
they got something to learn
from Arizona’s First Lady,
Desert Genius,
Fearless Fighter.

Rattlers beware, rustlers,
wranglers and shifty sheriffs,
political pundits and haters
slimy lizards parked
outside the capitol building,
watch the Arizona flag
copper star and all flying overhead,
and listen, listen to the thump, thump
of Governor Janet Napolitano’s
Magic VETO STAMP
if you dare,
for you see, no pioneer woman has ever been her match!

Now, I got one question left to ask:
Are there VETO STAMPS in Heaven?

By Stella Pope Duarte, author


Cavaleras collection

The reason you can’t lose weight later on in life is simple enough.
It’s because of how so many people you know have died,
And that you carry a little of each of them with you.
(from The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body)

Vultures show that in Arizona even Death gets a sunburn.

When the dead come back to visit – a ghost, a breeze, a voice, the back of a
head in a crowd – we remember somebody in that instant.  That is what rhyme
is in a poem, hearing a familiar sound, welcoming back what we thought was
gone.  Death does not like poems, which keep it from doing its job.

La Muerte es fuerte. Do you believe that rhyme? Perhaps we should have made muerte sound like margarita or chuparosa, something gentle to take away its bite.  Perhaps it is not too late.

Death, so what?  Even a small concern is stronger. We worry about whether or not we left the living room lamp on after we leave the house, we get in a car, we crash, and then there we are, lying on the ground, saying, “I see the light….”

By Alberto Ríos, ASU Regents’ professor, Katharine C. Turner Chair


Requiem for a mayor

Here lies Mayor Phil Gordon,
brought down in the dusty streets of Phoenix.
It was high noon and the Mayor stepped out
into the street and stood between our Sheriff
and his intended immigrant target.

The Sheriff drew his gun and fired,
hitting the mayor in the middle of his campaign button.

A sad tale of the bad Sheriff and the good Mayor
who took the bullet meant for a short brown skinned maiden.
As with all heroes, upon his death,
the Community gathered together to remember
his life in a “correo.”

The first verse was as follows:
Phil el valiente
Murio por su amor de justicia
Phil el jefe de Phoenix
Phil el mas macho de la cuidad.

By Frank Barrios, historian


Ode to legal terrorists

Russell Pierce oh what a guy!
So patriotic and certainly not shy!

Just like him I grew up in Mesa
But the man I identify with is Salvador Reza

Russell is the big bully looking for a fight
Picking on the little guy to prove his might

He and Joe Payaso can be so darn mean
They got Andrew Thomas on their terrorist team

Scapegoat and criminalize the poorest of the poor
The more media they get, the more they want more

The enemy they fear comes not from afar
Most of them walk over or come twelve in a car

They’ve come here to escape extreme desperation
In hopes of finding a hospitable nation

They leave their homes and all they hold dear
Instead of the freedom they seek they find only fear

This poem is for you the not so neighborly
Russell Pierce
I’ve never known anyone so merciless, so
hateful or fierce.

Look into your heart and see what you find
A big black hole of a blind man leading the blind!

By Zarco Guerrero, artist, writer, actor.

This Article appears on the October 2008 issue of LPM under Rincón del Arte

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