Sunday, November 9, 2008

For Sali: Of guitars and gunfire and tropical leaves

My friend Nico Leone went to a Day of the Dead celebration in the San Francisco Mission District, where he saw a couple of people marching, carrying signs referencing the murder of Marcella Sali Grace. "Wasn't able to get a picture, but when the march ended in Garfield Park, saw the signs hung on a fence," Nico wrote in an email, with these images he took.

Marcella Sali Grace was the daughter of our family friend John Eiler. She was murdered just before her twenty-first birthday in Oaxaca in September. I have been documenting her family's grief (including an amazing poem by the father), and I suppose Nico has been keeping up. He is one of the directors of KDHX Community Media, which distributes this blog among others.

The tributes to Sali begin to seem endless. Put aside for the moment the thousands of people Sali touched in the dozens of places where she formed attachments and commitments during her five years or so as a traveler and activist. Here in St. Louis alone, among people who love her father, K. Curtis Lyle has written a long poem that was performed at her local memorial, Baba Mike Nelson is working on a score to that poem, and Thollem McDonas has decided to dedicate his next record to Sali's memory. Surely more will come.

I thought of Sali when preparing a set of texts by Kenneth Rexroth to read at Day of the Dead Beats 2008. This following Rexroth poem, written about an incident more than 80 years before her murder, could easily describe the adventure of meeting an open soul like Sali in a dangerous and dramatic place like Oaxaca. I dedicated it to her when I read it at The Way Out Club.

By Kenneth Rexroth

You were a beautiful child
With troubled face, green eyelids
And black lace stockings
We met in a filthy bar
You said “My name is Nada
I don’t want anything from you
I will not take from you
I will give you nothing”
I took you home down alleys
Splattered with moonlight and garbage and cats
To your desolate disheveled room
Your feet were dirty
The lacquer was chipped on your fingernails
We spent a week hand in hand
Wandering entranced together
Through a sweltering summer
Of guitars and gunfire and tropical leaves
And black shadows in the moonlight
A lifetime ago

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