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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 3, September 2012

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George Swede
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


La Muerte on TV

My wife and I lean forward as the TV shows a bullfighting ring in Mexico City. The camera focuses on a closed gate showing the number 21 and the weight 406 kg. Loud Mariachi music sounds and the gate opens. Out rushes almost 900 pounds of testosterone-fueled anger. The crowd cheers as the bull circles the empty dirt ring thrusting his sharp horns at imaginary foes.

Mariachi horns blare
the blood lust crowd and the bull
excited by each other

The two commentators start using unfamiliar words. In an attempt to follow their patter, we search for our Spanish-English dictionary. By the time we find it, a man on horseback, called a picador, is on screen. Dressed in black, he wields a long lance or pica. The horse’s sides are protected by thick padding colored orange and yellow and its eyes are completely blindfolded by black material. When the curious bull gets close enough, the picador pokes his pica at the bulging neck muscle in front of the bull’s shoulders. Enraged, the bull attacks the horse, which stumbles, but does not go down because the padding absorbs most of the shock.

Then two men in blue matador suits run out. Each is carrying two banderillas, shafts covered with purple and blue streamers and ending with harpoon-shaped steel points. The men take turns dancing in front of the perplexed bull, eventually sticking all four of their banderillas into the bulging neck muscle already stained red from the pica. The banderillas only can enter the length of the blade and thus stick out of the bull like party decorations.

festive colors
on the killing ground—red also
in the bull’s eyes

At last, the matador emerges. He is young with slick black hair and wears a green suit with pink stockings. His movements are macho, engaging as he tosses a black bull-fighter’s hat over his shoulder toward the expensive seats. The audience cheers and the TV hosts comment favorably. Waving a red cape or muleta, the matador struts towards the bleeding bull and gets it to charge. In a balletic move called a veronica, he pivots gracefully to avoid the now lumbering beast. The matador does this twice more and once he even turns his back to the confused bull. The crowd and commentators love this young man.

unlike the bull
the matador knows
a script exists
the arena flags ripple

Having been weakened by damaged neck muscles and loss of blood, the bull’s aggression is less than half what it was before. Finally, the bull simply stands and stares. This is the moment for the estocada or sword-thrust. The matador goes to the edge of the ring where a man holds out a sheath from which the matador pulls the sword used for the kill. It is long and curved downward at the tip in order that it may penetrate deeply.

a smog-shrouded sun
the smiling matador has no shame
in his dark eyes

The matador struts back to the bull, his sword hidden by the muleta. He stops in front of the bull and raises the sword above the bull’s head and thrusts into la muerte, the kill area between the bull’s shoulders. The bull stands shocked, with sides heaving; then topples over dead.

after the kill
one small cloud of dust
where the tail
is last to fall

The matador takes a bow. The crowd applauds and the men in the booth comment favorably on the estocada. As horses start to drag away the dead bull, commercials appear for several minutes. When the bullring reappears, the gate shows a new number and weight. My wife and I are transfixed.


Author’s Note: This haibun was first read on Irish National Radio in 2002.

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