Dia de los Muertos, The Mission, S. F., 2001
I’ve had a habit since the days of Pine, of writing various things, emailing them to myself, and then forgetting them. This is one of those things.
Dead black alleys punctuated by carnival neon wrap around corners from taco stands and laundromats open late.
The night started out slow and languorous, warm air circled our legs and
swirled about our heads. As the darkness progressed, aching cold rain
in sheets and waves washed down.
Pairs and larger groups of celebrants randomly roaming the streets, some
making false starts into desolate alleys, unsure of the procession route.
Warm and salty smells of boiling sauces hang in the cold darkness.
A group of performers, dressed in white with skeleton face paint, stand
beating drums on a street corner. It feels like they are readying the
heartbeat of the procession, or that they are beckoning the spirits of
lost relatives and friends from a distant place, calling them home
on this night.
Bong, bong, bong-bong.
The beats of the drum, normally so strong and full of bravado, have a sharp edge to them, like they are being coaxed from a reluctant animal.
A man, dressed in a monk’s cassock and wearing white sneakers, walks
slowly down the sidewalk. He talks to no one, yet shakes his death rattle
urgently when he encounters a fellow reveler.
I laugh because it seems so stupid and trivial. He doesn’t make any robust dramatic proclamations like, “Death is knocking on your door.”, yet it makes it seem more powerful, the rattle is so subtle that it is hard to hear unless you are actively listening. It caught hard on the edge of my consciousness. After that, it felt like an inside joke between him and me. Nobody could see him coming up behind them; they just heard the insistence of the rattle. But I could see.
There were skeletons dressed as Charros and wayward brides. Others
were dressed as gothic nightmares. Still some were dressed in hooded sweatshirts and dirty sneakers, partially concealing crusty flaking white and black paint.
It was a tableau as José Posada might have dreamt it, or maybe
the revelers were dreaming him.
The park, on a normal night, home to drunken men and sleeping squirrels, was interspersed with flickering alters, each dedicated to a memory. Giant orange blobs became clear upon approach, filled with flickering candles and paper marigolds. Flames hissed and danced when touched by raindrops. The musty-sweet smell of incense mixed with tamales danced on the winds.
As I wandered between altars, I felt lost.
I liked seeing the objects used to remember people: the sugar skulls, the bright colors of crepe paper and flowers, the old photographs.
I felt like crying, but I wasn’t sure why.
I don’t like manifestations that remind me that someday I will die.
The rest of the gathering washes in on the sound of beating drums.
I can see flames rising and falling over the heads of a crowd. There is a flame thrower illuminating the night.