You might be a king
You might be a street-sweeper
But sooner or later,
You dance with the Reaper!

A calaverita is a humourous poem much like the one sung above by the Grim Reaper in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, but with some variations suited for the Mexican holiday of Day of the Dead. The word calaverita is the diminutive of calavera which according to the dictionary of the Royal Academy, comes from the Latin calvaria, which means skull. The Calavera is one of the many names that Death receives in México, others being Calaca (an exclusively Mexican synonym for Calavera), La Flaca (The Skinny One), or La Huesuda (The Bony One). La Muerte, Death, is usually depicted as a skeleton dressed in flashy clothes, and Los Muertos, The Dead, or Los Muertitos, if you prefer terms of endearment, The Deaddies, are also depicted as skeletons, usually having a good time in their death, very well dressed, laughing, drinking, eating, and dancing.

A lot of these images of death as well as the practice of writing humourous poetry to accompany them come from early twentieth century Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada who popularised the practice and gave Day of the Dead much of its modern imagery. He started the practice still alive (heh) to this day of writing these poems of death, these calaveritas for prominent politicians of the day and publishing them in newspapers. Modern newspapers have kept up the practice, and during adult Day of the Dead (November 2nd; November 1st is reserved for the "little angels", dead children), you can flip to the editorial section of any reputable newspaper and usually find skeletal cartoon versions of modern politicians as well as poetry describing their life and death.

Although skeletons representing death are a familiar theme for people from other countries, there are some important differences with the portrayals of Death during Day of the Dead. Since it's La Muerte, Death is always drawn as a pretty female skeleton, dressed with flowers and colourful dresses. Though Mexicans are of course aware of the Grim Reaper and its sombre garb, Death is much more festively depicted for Day of the Dead; she might be the Grim Reaper's jovial sister. The written descriptions of Death also favour a certain frivolous deathstyle, and that Death can sometimes be a fickle lady who will claim souls for her simply because she is lonely and wants someone that will party with her.

It is curious that although Death is a happy lady, she can also be dead serious at times (sorry), and is always perfectly punctual. She will pay a visit to us all, sometimes with a warning, and sometimes without, but we all will get a chance to socialise with her at some point. She isn't cruel at all, but just a little too abrupt sometimes, apparently without any malicious intent. She's just like that.

Calaveritas are supposed to capture most of these ideas about Death. They're supposed to be short, colloquial, descriptive about a particular person and narrate something about how that person's encounter with Death went. Calaveritas are written for the dead and the living, if for the former we try to give a funny twist to that person's death, and if living we also try to write an unexpected but inevitable form of death for that person. Death is a character in these poems often with a speaking part, and the poem's colloquial tone is in a way a characterisation of the Mexican view of Death during this bright holiday, also filled with yummy food, as is well known.

I have written two sample calaveritas for a couple of beloved noders, which I present below. I hope you enjoyed your encounter with The Skeletal One!

For Cletus the Foetus

Jeremy is no more a philosophy rookie,
So Death said unto him, "What do you want, a cookie?
I won't be impressed until you get a PhD,
And your time on this Earth is counted, take it from me.
You will have to hurry, if you want this next award.
I can't wait. 'To not be', I might answer to The Bard!"

But Jeremy to this warning did not pay due heed,
"Voices in my head," he muttered. "They won't let me read!"
Poring over Kant, whom Miss Death had already claimed,
Jeremy struggled to grasp Kant's ideas so famed.
Years went by, and he forgot The Skinny One's presence,
Who didn't take kindly such impolite insolence.

Thus one fine July morning, Miss Bones said to a bat,
"I have tired of waiting, because that little brat
Will not return my calls, and now his chances are fat.
Bite him in his sleep, and I'll give you a robot hat."
Bat jumped at the promise of such fasionable hat,
And he told all of his friends, and even a rat.

The rat had rabies, and promptly decided to share.
"Here you go," she said. "Now he'll be easy to ensnare!"
So it happened that Bat flew to Jeremy's window,
Perfectly disposed to make his girl a sad widow.
He silently crept to Jeremy's inviting neck.
Snicker-snack! Now Jerry's immune system was a wreck!

Here comes into action The Bony One's greatest ploy.
The lad never felt the bite. He didn't know. Poor boy!
'Twas not long before Jeremy wouldn't take a drink,
And that very same winter, while on a skating rink,
His bones dried up, just like Miss Death had said that they would.
"Now that you are dry like me, come to my side. You should."

Now Bonesy was happy to have such a cultured guest,
Who had much to say about Spinoza and all the rest.
With time, Jeremy came to enjoy the Afterlife,
And Death enjoyed Jeremy's brain, with ideas rife.
With Death's company, Jeremy finished his thesis,
Entitled "Robot hats: My monkey's antithesis".

For Andromache01

Aquí yace, muy lejos de la ruin España,
La señorita Jennifer Maynulet Braña.
Yace en un panteón de la bella Canadá,
Pues lo que les cuento es la puritita verdá.

Un buen día, Jenny recibió una carta
Que la libraba de lo que ya estaba harta.
Una aceptación a una escuela muy fina
Le dio inviernos tan blancos como la harina.

Así Jenny pudo trasladarse a América,
Mas a La Flaca se le botó la canica
Y La Huesuda, siempre bromista, tenía un plan.
"Querida Jenny," dijo a sí, "aquí verán
Que a Doña Muerte no se le escaparán.
Mañana estiras la pata y fin. ¡Tin-tan!"

Apenas Jenny pisó la tierra prometida
Cuando La Calaca la dejó sin salida.
Por el aeropuerto, en una callecilla,
¡Un auto la dejó plana como una tortilla!

Jenny, ni con espátula te levantamos,
Tons en la calle tu funeral preparamos.
Temías que no viniéramos a tal reunión
Pero aquí estamos para la ocasión.

Después te pudimos llevar al cementerio,
Mientras bailabas con La Calaca en serio.
Nosotros de negro azabache y llorando,
¡Pero tú allá con La Muerte festejando!

Happy Day of the Dead!

A node sponsored by the Noderissima 2006 coalition.

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