Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Saturday, January 05, 2013

About fan mail . . . and Yemanja

Katy, a friend of a friend, wrote a fan letter about my book, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales. More personal than a review, this letter between friends, recounted that she had opened the book at random and read about Yemanja in a poem set in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She was immediately pulled into the world of the poem because she had once visited there and had fallen in love with the people of that town and their culture, just as I had.  Here's the poem:

"Imagine a Town . . . "
The women of Salvador dance down to the ocean,
bearing gifts to honor  Yemanja

Imagine a town each February 2
that closes its shops.
All the people come down to the water
wearing transparent beaded necklaces and
bringing gifts, little boats
filled with flowers and perfumes
to launch into the sea.

They come, singing songs and dancing,
the people of the town down to the water,
near the Rio Vermelho,
the beautiful brown women
wearing gowns the color of the sea.
Bearing gifts they come singing to you,
Yemanja, orixa, Princess,
oh, Janaina, Queen of the Sea,
mother of the waters, of the storms,
of the fish.  In your honor,
the sweet perfumes, the rejoicing.
Yemanja appears, giving gifts to her followers
Even the cat prowling
under the tables of Mama Bahia
for scraps of fish
has eyes the color of the milky green sea.

How I long to dance with the people
along the beaches here in your town,
in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil,
a town once of fishermen
who went to the sea in small boats,
while women waited
and prayed by the shore.
Now all shadows and phantoms
they come from the past,
their boats filled
with flowers and perfumes.

Another image of Yemanja
In Salvador, Saturdays are consecrated to Yemanja, the queen of the waters, ruler of the upper sea, a goddess (orixa) in the condomble religion.

Most commonly shown as a mermaid, Yemanja appears in many forms in this city where people still gather on the beaches each February 2 to offer her gifts. I was fortunate enough to stay in Salvador in 2009 for about a week. The first two photographs are from a monumental painting by an anonymous folk artist. This painting hangs in the lobby of the Pousada do Boqueirao, a hotel in Salvador where we stayed for one wonderful week overlooking the ocean. (Oh, please go look at the images of this wonderful hotel.)

This last painting is smaller, perhaps as large as your hand, also from the Pousada, which was filled with images of Yemanja.

But Katy's letter connects my poem to her experiences in Salvador, her appreciation for how Africans, brought to Brazil against their will as slaves, yet retained their own religion and their cultural identity.

As a writer new to building audience, how do I respond to her letter? For respond I must, first out of gratitude. She read my stuff and found it moving. What more could any writer want? I shall write her a letter back, perhaps including these color images, for they do not appear in my book.

How have you responded to your readers? What would you do in response to Katy's letter?


  1. Lovely! Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Caro Ness. I backtracked to read more and found your lovely post on The Peacock Clock. What a lovely article drenched with the flavor of Russia and St. Petersburg and history. So I read more of your wedding dinner (another great story) -- all before my own writing, which usually comes first above all.