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La Muerta (The Dead Woman) ~ Shrine for Frida

October 28, 2010

La Muerta (The Dead Woman) ~ Shrine for Frida
Poem by Pablo Neruda
Cigar boxes, silk, arylic paints, fake flowers, vintage buttons, bottlecaps, salsa cans
Day of the Dead
November 2009
Karen Rivera

One of the few holidays I celebrate is the Day of the Dead. Brash, garish, shamelessly over the top and unrepentantly emotional, I grow my own marigolds every year just to be sure I have their peculiar smell in November.

Day of the Dead also means tequila and and bad renditions of Pablo Neruda’s amazing poetry, starting with La Muerta.

Hearing this poem read, in English or in Spanish, is a moving experience even if the translation is mangled. Here are two much better options for your listening pleasure: a video snippet by Alan Rickman (in Truly, Madly, Deeply) and this dramatic, melancholy gem by Lafayette and ddball.


La Muerta
If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall live on.

I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.

I shall live on.

For where a man has no voice,
there shall be my voice.

Where blacks are flogged and beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers go to prison
I shall go with them.

When victory,
not my victory,
but the great victory
even if I am dumb I must speak;
I shall see it coming even if I am blind.

No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you
have died,
all the leaves will fall on my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping,
I shall stay alive,
because above all things you wanted me
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all mankind.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. boatacrosstheriver permalink
    August 10, 2010 12:23 am

    Wow! Wonderful post — and it’s a wonderful piece by Neruda. Gives me chills.

    • August 10, 2010 6:29 pm

      Glad you liked it.

      He’s one of my favorite poets, along with Rumi and Basho. I think of him as wonderfully messy, mixing over-the-top love with pragmatism and the necessity of social revolution. He binds it all together as one. Same thing with Frida Khalo–messy, love-torn, revolutionary artist. I wish I had to ability to read it in the original but I don’t have a gift for languages.

  2. August 10, 2010 5:46 pm

    Karen: Day of the Dead. What a gripping description of your attraction for that day. As I get older, I think of my own passing before Brenda (she’s younger) and wonder how it will be for her. If she goes first, then I know whose poetry and stanzas I will be reading. And, I know how my mornings will begin and how the day will end.

    Until that moment, eat, drink and be merry. Dance with your friends and fight for the right.

    • August 10, 2010 6:49 pm

      Wrestling with these issues in my life as well. I tend to be on the alternative side of things. That’s what happens when you spend a formative year in a commune in Taos. It sets the tone for the rest of your life.

      There’s a Buddhist joke that Ram Dass used to tell that went something like this:

      A master is dying of a gangrenous arm and his disciples are frantic. “Master, we can’t lose you. Why don’t you save yourself?”

      The master tells them that it’s ok, his body has finished it’s trip.

      “And besides, where would I go?” Hysterical laughter ensues amongst the Buddhists at this point.

      Of course, he tells it better and the crowd knows it’s coming but I understand his point. Matter can’t be created or destroyed. We aren’t really going anywhere. After all, even TIME magazine changed the section from “Deaths” to “Transitions”.

      It’s just the day to day reality of the absence that is difficult to wrestle with. That’s why I adore the Day of the Dead annual fiesta.

      • August 10, 2010 7:15 pm

        Yes, where would we go. And the day to day absence. I miss so many of my older relatives and friends, but not much I can do about it. I do detect in my behavior certain phrases and patterns that emanate from them, so they’re still a part of me. I am a radical materialist — like Guatama — we’re just a bundle of perceptions for awhile. I’m in need of a beer. And, one of your recipes. Must hear about your Taos commune days. I probably saw you in Taos back in the late 60s, early 70s. I lived in Amarillo and Taos was my second home.

  3. August 10, 2010 5:47 pm

    Karen, please tell me more about the marigolds in November.

    • August 10, 2010 6:23 pm

      Marigolds are known as the flower of the dead. The scent, along with exuberant and drunken singing, is used to lure the dead back for the one day family reunion. Some people scatter yellow marigold petals from the grave or tomb to their houses to make it easier for the dead to find their way home.

      I used to have two 10 foot beds of marigolds planted to bloom just at the end of October. In Oregon, the frost always held off until the 5th or 6th of November so we could build the traditional shrine on Cemetery Hill. Marigolds aren’t something you can buy in a florist’s shop, you have to grow them or find them somehow. That’s part of the ritual for me, the time I spend growing the flowers. The scent stays with me. I don’t really like it. I think that may be part of the point. It’s a shock to the system every time I smell them. Here, I have 3 just-seeded buckets that I should be able to keep going even if it snows next month like they tell me it will.

      Pueblo, about 45 minutes away, has a large Hispanic population, so if they don’t grow, I have resources. I’m looking forward to seeing how they celebrate it. I’ve already found a family that sells fresh roasted chilis at the Farmer’s Market on Thursdays and they sell Bueno chili in the freezers here so I can cook real food again.

      • August 10, 2010 7:19 pm

        Must see about the marigolds and plant a few. We’ve planted sage and they are blooming like the dickens this week. I can’t remember the smell of marigolds. Mother was a gardener and I know she grew them. (How can you remember a smell?)

        I’m familiar with Pueblo. Always like the town. Close to the mountains.

        Thank you for writing an informative reply.

        By the way, where did you go to school?

        • August 11, 2010 1:41 pm

          One of the downsides of being a chef is that smell connects you to the world more than anything else. I remember scents from my childhood and walk around nose in the air, stopping often. It’s a game I played with other chefs–identify ingredients of a dish from the smell, not the taste. My connection to people is scent driven as well. My nose caused some significant problems in relationships over the years.

          School? Trade school at 40, a few semesters of theatre at UNM and a year at the Lycee Louis Le Grande in Paris doing sauces and pastry. Higher education was discouraged for women in my family. It supposedly made us uppity and unmarriageable. My solution, since I couldn’t afford college until much later, was to run away from home and hang around with very well educated men. It forced me to read like crazy to be able to match wits. Not the most politically correct choice but the times were different. They say that’s the best way to learn a new language, to sleep with a native. In my case, I dated history and law students, writers and bad poets, political activists and budding architects, soldiers and firemen. I admire passion and intelligence.

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