La Isla de Munecas: A Day of the Dead Poem

Orphaned from the girl who bought and loved them

the dolls were packed tightly into a suitcase

and floated gently down the canals of Xochimico

to the Isla de Munecas and into the waiting embrace of

Don Julian Santana Barrera.

 

In the unpacking, a girl doll, a life-size two-year-old,

with a dress, hand-work all over, silk socks and slippers

caught Don Julian’s stare.

 

Frozen in a bald passion, an absent gaze

just like his own, eyes white with fever,

so tired, almost asleep, Don Julian imagined

her dreaming of awakening in her new country. 

 

She smelled of antiseptic and the other dolls

had matted hair, small melts in their plastic body,

as if they had been boiled in a huge pot.

 

Except for her, all were bent into incredible postures,

a tortured series of poses no human could maintain.

The last two removed were eyeless, armless stone dolls

too heavy for a child’s play, the kind placed in a

Royal Princess’ Egyptian Tomb as a curse hedge.

 

The island air smelled stiffly of

dirty linen, mold, and soiled dreams.

 

All around where the tangled limbs of

Banyan trees reaching out to everything,

forming a grove of madness. They blocked

the afternoon sun and hovered over

Don Julian, a curious little girl

above a new sister.

 

Hanging down from them on vines,

strips of linen, gentle silk threads,

old and brittle fishing lines,

the coils out of broken watches,

the flotsam of whatever washed ashore,

where the decapitated play things that

composed Isla de Munecas population.

 

Wedged in the exposed roots of the Banyans

plastic heads stared out to Don Julian.

From the gypsy ground more stiff child faces

half-buried in the subsoil looked up at him.

 

Limbs that had fallen off were replaced

with Banyan twigs poking through.

The few plush ones were decaying,

changing back to string and dust

that danced dream-puffs as they

floated down to Don Julian’s boots.

The older, still intact figures, have long

been colonized by the Island’s

ever present wasp swarms.

 

At night, their phosphorescent mold

turned everything into a green candle

 

Don Julian kissed the cheeks

and gently caressed the back

of the perfect little porcelain skin

child in his fatherly embrace.

He wondered why such a

sweet wonderful unbroken thing

 had been placed in his trust

and marooned to this broken place.

 

A delicate wind breathed among the Banyans

and the munecas swayed into each other

face to face, ear to ear,

almost kissing, almost whispering,

one to the other, producing the dull thudding

wind chime noise, the  island’s only music,

that Don Julian now customarily ignored. 

 

He maneuvered with the doll

in his outstretched arms

through the small foot trail

to his thatched hut

the grove reluctantly

permitted through the years.

 

The hut was plebeian—

only a straw mattress ,

well worn wooden table,

a small clay oven,

and its sole extravagance,

an authentic king’s chair

carved in the conquistador style.

 

Don Julian posed her in the chair

upright, regal, straight,

the way he remembered

seeing Queen Isabella in the pages

of La Historia de Espana.

 

Outside, the wind became defiant, angry.

In its abuse the dolls got louder

with each penetrating gust

until their memory name,

branded, stenciled, tattooed

on their back and now scarred over

was exposed in shameful revelation:

 

María del ojo ensangrentado,

Juana del brazo y las piernas rotas,

Alma del alma perdida,

Frida la escaldada,

Lupe la hambrienta,

Anna de las calles sin hogar,

Pilar la asesinada…

until every death was revealed.

 

The wind pulled open the door

and Don Julian felt his arms stiffen,

the rest of his body harden

his five senses abandon him,

his lungs no longer exhale,

his heart no longer beat,

until he was just porcelain and plastic.

 

The doll felt flesh being formed,

the inhalation-exhalation of new lungs,

the beating of a virgin heart,

a world proclaiming her queen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translation of the Spanish names:

(Maria of the  bloody eye)

(Juana of the broken arm and legs)

(Juana of the broken arm and legs)

(Alma of the lost soul)

(Frida the scald)

(Lupe the starved)

(Anna of the homeless streets)

(Pilar t murdered)