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How to write literary calaveras for Día de Muertos

An illustration featuring skulls that reads

You’ve made your ofrenda (altar), hung your papel picado (paper banners), and decorated your calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls). Now, for the full Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) experience, it’s time to write a calavera literaria (literary calavera): a playful, satirical epitaph in verse. 

And relax: They’re not just for experts, newspapers and magazines. In Mexico, adults and kids write calavera poems for fun.

Inspired? Create and share by tagging @HallmarkStores.

Hallmark employees write literary calaveras during a workshop.

1. Pick someone—or something—to eulogize.  

Important note: They should not actually be dead. You can write about a politician or famous person or your best friend or an object on your desk. 

Here’s an example by Hallmark Writer Dan T.:

El Mariachi

In las plazas grandes and cozy small bars,
Mariachis are famous for playing guitars.
The most hateful critic finds himself compliant
When hearing guitars which are really quite giant.
“Bigger is better!” the musicians say.
So mas y mas grow the guitars that they play.
And that’s where they found Juan, a guitar big and wide
Fell on him and crushed him, and that’s how he died.

2. Introduce the subject of your calavera poem.  

Do a little foreshadowing. Are they behaving badly? Making poor choices? Minding their own business? It’s all up to you. Hallmark Writer Keely C. lets us know right from the start that things are not going well for her subject.

Death of Manners

She met her cruel end at a dinner with “friends.”
Not one of them RSVP’d.
She felt all alone as they stared at their phones
and double-dipped chips out of greed.
Loud calls were taken, politeness forsaken.
Their language was not safe for work.
She felt ill at ease when not one uttered “Please.”
In short, they were all being jerks.
There was fingernail clipping and eye-contact-skipping.
With mouths full, the company talked.
No “thank-you” was spoken, and Manners, heartbroken,
keeled over and croaked from pure shock!

3. Decide how they meet La Muerte.   

How will Death come in this literary calavera? Will it be the result of their hobby or occupation? Their personality? Or will they perish as the result of a really bad pun, as in this example by another Hallmark writer?

Cervezas

Down at the cantina,
they’re shedding big tears—
in mourning because
someone killed a few beers.

 

Now it’s your turn.

Here’s a vocabulary list that might spark some ideas for your calavera literaria:

  • calavera (skull)
  • (la) Muerte (“the” death)
  • flores (flowers)
  • luz/luces (light/lights)
  • risas (laughter)
  • baila (vb. “ella baila” “she dances”)
  • esqueleto (skeleton)
  • dientes (teeth)
  • Música (music)
  • Infierno (hell)
  • Cielo (heaven)

 

Food: 

  • tamal/tamales 
  • chocolate (hot chocolate)
  • pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread)
  • tacos 
  • fruta (fruit)
  • tequila 
  • mezcal
  • cerveza 

And if you get stuck for a rhyme, find an online rhyming dictionary or app to give you options.

Once you’ve got your literary calavera perfected, letter or print it on this free printable page.

A literary calavera entitled

OK, just a few more examples…  

Because once we started we could not stophere are a few more literary calaveras examples from Hallmark Writers. Hallmark Bilingual Copywriter Beau B. wrote about Death by the heat of chili peppers.

Muerte por “enchilamiento” 

Aquí yace Juan Primero
Que le gustaba la salsa picosa.
Chipotle con habanero
A él le sabía sabrosa.

Por pasarse con la salsa,
El pobre Juan se enchiló.
Le salió humo por las orejas
Y mil veces por agua gritó.

Al escuchar su llanto
Apareció la Pelona,
Quien buscando almas en pena,
Ya rondaba por esa zona.

“Ya no llores tan profundo,”
Dijo ella sonriendo.
Y lo llevó al inframundo
Donde hoy sigue ardiendo.

 

Another Hallmark Writer took someone down with dip:

TV Chef

Here lies the famous TV chef
who came up with the dish
called “Death by guacamole.”
He finally got his wish!

 

And Bill killed off Death herself:

La Muerte

La Muerte was feeling some pressure.
Worry lines crisscrossed her bones.
An email that came down from corporate
Was laden with menacing tones.
“Your numbers were down in September.
October’s not looking much better.
Now the Day of the Dead is approaching,
And people should be a lot deader!”
La Muerte slunk off to the bathroom,
Had a panic attack in the stall.
That’s where she worried herself to death,
And so reached her goal after all.

 

OK, one more calavera poem from Dan T.

Mezcal Worm

No more will he burrow
No more will he squirm.
He’s not underground,
Which is bad for a worm.
But don’t be too sad.
Let no frown cloud your face.
Believe me, he’s gone to a happier place.

You have your assignment. Have fun writing your calavera literaria!

Want more ideas for your Día de Muertos celebration? We have a bunch!

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