In the public cemetery, in Santiago de Queretaro, I hide behind mausoleums, snapping private moments. A woman bends over a grave, clipping the grass that’s grown wild over her father’s head; a man digs into the earth planting marigolds, bursts of orange
bright enough to attract
the spirits back.
A baby girl, the next generation, plays peek-a-boo between marble urns. Young men carry buckets of water from the well to the gravesites, 10 pesos to cleanse your tomb, honor your dead.
It’s a big day for the mariachis. 50, 100, 200 pesos a canción. Families are happy to pay a hefty price to conjure the ghosts of their loved-ones. Duos, trios, quartets cluster around the grave-sites playing happy songs with somber faces, as family members sing along, tears filling their eyes, remembering the time their mama danced to that tune.
I’m a voyeur; but I come out from the shadows to buy my own songs. I have dead loved ones too. I choose a trio: accordion, guitar, and upright base. I request Cielito Lindo, little beautiful sky, for my cousin, Jonny Copp, who died the summer before getting too close to the clouds. At age 35, climbing virgin peaks on the border between China and Tibet, he was buried alive in an avalanche.
A couple lays a picnic upon a freshly washed marble grave: an embroidered cloth, plates of warm tamales wrapped in corn husks, and cabritos of tequila, little tiny shots of fire that take their sorrow away.