"Girl with Death Mask (She Plays Alone)," by Frida Kahlo

Death Danced With Me In Mexico

Dia de los Muertos blurs the boundaries between the realms of Life and Death. Altars bearing the photos of lost loved ones keep them close to the heart. Families picnic on the graves of ancestors, dressing as vibrant skeletons festooned with flowers. Death need be neither hated nor feared. Indeed, welcoming Death with joy banishes fear and heals grief.

Death, the trickster, shadowed me through Mexico
He fire-whispered past the pyramids
Shirtless, wearing sandals, a straw hat
Watchful, floating high above the groves
Of coffee-beans and Aztec-haunted fields
Beyond the vast volcanoes flowing red
Erupting mortal conflict from their hearts
Infusing Toltec clay with poison herbs
Chanting with the quaking of the Earth
Bashful of the ancient rites of blood
And hopeful of the Virgin’s healing touch.

Death lingered near me as I sampled life
Spice to scald the tongue and heat the soul
Panting violent passion, clergy-blest,
Yet drawn with-pain like Frida Kahlo’s art.
Careless-callow like the handsome men
Who cruise the Zona Rosa in the heat.
Death stroked his chest and dared me to leave prints
Upon the snows of the Sierra peaks
To sing the mariachi songs of love
While pointing harshly at the starving dogs
Begging scraps beside the plaza gates.

Death stared at me through strolling lovers’ eyes
Fiesta-garbed, preparing for the feast;
Their calavera skulls with roses graced,
The Dia de los Muertos in their hearts.
Death clapped his hands to rhythmic antique drums
His hair unruly, studying my face.
Death turned to watch the setting crimson sun
Then back at me, a gaze of fierce desire.,
“Join with me and let’s end this morbid chase!”
“Or haunt me where?” I said. “The beach? The church?
Turn Xochimilco to the River Styx?”?

Death shrugged, strummed his guitar and sang to me
Skin bronzed, mustached, about his neck a cross
Of silver crafted from the-mines of Taxco;
Invoking old laments of Pancho Villa
Extending me his hand, saying “Señor…”
Strolling the romantic ancient streets
Inhaling deep the scent of roasting maize;
Not so strange or tall as I had thought,
Flamenco-lean, chest bare, his eyes intense,
His muscles taut, a sigh escaped his lips
He pulled me to him for his mortal kiss.

In this strange land La Muerte comes to call
Like family, not turned away nor feared
The locks unlocked, the windows open wide
In Mexico Death enters through the door.
He stopped his kiss and said “my friend, not yet.”
He smiled warmly, carrying no scythe —
Just bright fiesta colors, sly and suave,
Singing loudly on the cobbled streets
Carousing, smelling of sweet marigolds.
Death’s spirits soared, he’d caught my senses full.
Delighted with the chase, he bid me dance.

We danced for hours, early morn till noon.
We danced so hard, I knew I’d weaken soon
And that the Trickster’s mortal kiss would follow.
Then before the Temple of the Moon
As sacred church bells peeled throughout the barrio
Death spoke his truth: “I shall both take and give.
The joy you feel will lessen through my sieve
The pain you feel my tender kiss will cleave.”
He freed my hand, caressed my cheek and lo,
He grinned and danced away. “Perhaps tomorrow.”
Capricious creature he, Death let me live.

Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Grand Little Things, Society of Classical Poets, Poetica and Chained Muse. In addition to poetry, he has authored two published children’s plays, several short stories and is presently completing his first science fiction novel. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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