Winning Day of the Dead poem celebrates the spirit and dance of an old family friend

Winning Day of the Dead poem celebrates the spirit and dance of an old family friend

7:55am Nov 12, 2021
Photo courtesy of Casa Azul of Greensboro

Casa Azul of Greensboro announced the winners of literary calaveritas, a Day of the Dead tradition of writing obituaries in verse for people who are alive. This year’s winning poem, Salsa Merengue y Danzón, was written by Graciela Ivonne Sanchez after her daughter encouraged her to join the competition. 

Sanchez quickly decided to write a poem about a close family friend, Don Ramón, the life of the party — a big-bellied man who was always dancing and singing in family gatherings.

Sanchez decided to focus on Don Ramón because he represents a shared experience in Latino culture and to highlight the liveliness of the Día de Muertos tradition by, instead of just focusing on the sadness of death, focusing on how cheerful Don Ramón was even — as the poem describes — while dancing with the Grim Reaper herself.

“When my daughter asked me to write a calaverita, the first person that came to mind was him, since no one knew about him, but he impacted me,” she says. “I told my daughter ‘I always wanted to tell him he was a great dancer.'” 

The Mexican festivity Day of the Dead has many traditions to honor dead loved ones, and to show respect for death itself. Altars, going to the cemetery, giving offerings to the dead, and calaveritas literarias are four of the most prominent traditions. Depending on the city from Mexico you or your family might be from, the celebrations vary.  

This year’s other winning poems were Para Lucy (for Lucy) by María de Jesús Peña Ulloa, A la Muerte Catrina y Fea (Death to the Ugly Catrina) by Gumaro Manzo, and La Parca en Navidad (The Grim Reaper on Christmas) by Angelique Segarra Kerkado. A La Reina del Mariachi (For the Mariachi Queen) by Oralia Coronado.

The prizes for the winners were mugs, tote bags with Neidy Perdomo’s Día de Muertos design on it, shirts, and a winner’s certificate. Casa Azul of Greensboro continues the celebration of Día de Muertos until November 13th with an altar and ofrenda exhibit.

 

Salsa merengue y danzón, bailando se murió Don Ramón 

El doctor le había advertido al panzón 

Que si no se cuidaba le daría un retortijón 

Oh calaca vieja y celiaca, le gritó con rencor

cómo es que te mueves, chava, si estás tan flaca 

Pero así huesuda se lo llevó 

De la cadera lo recogió 

Y bailando se fueron hacia el panteón 

La muerte flaca, y el muerto panzón 

 

Salsa, merengue, and dancer, dancing died Don Ramón

The doctor had warned the big-bellied man

That if he wasn’t careful he would break his bones

Oh Calaca, old and skinny, he screamed with resentment

How can you dance that way, chava, if you’re so skinny

But just like that, the skinny woman took him to the pantheon

Grabbed him by the waist

Dancing their way to the cemetery 

The skinny death, and the dead big-bellied man

This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.

Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.

Periodista de La Noticia y 88.1 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022

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