Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 3



Pan de Muerto

Mario Duarte


With pumpkin peel under my fingernails, I get out of bed in the clothes that I wore the day before—a gray t-shirt, a black hoodie, and faded jeans. My feet reluctantly slide on black, heavy shoes. Shuffle outside. All my Halloween pumpkins are shattered across the front walk, pieces of grimacing faces gaze up at me. I shake a fist at the sky, and skull-shaped clouds tumble in the gusting wind spreading a hint of dead fish.

I retrieve the newspaper out of the hostas still wet from last night’s cold rain. “War or Peace?” reads the headline. From a house across the street, the muffled cries of a baby rise. I stop and listen harder—the crying vanishes, perhaps lost among the peaks and valleys of the wind. .Just above my head a purple and seedless bird feeder twirls on a dark branch, and I realize my life is set to point zero, with everything is starting over.

I drag my feet back inside. Toss the newspaper on the end table by my easy chair, wince at its ragged arms, the favorite scratching posts of my cat Gordo, who I have not seen since I let him out in the middle of last night. My head is swirling with a thoughts and feelings. I wander about, ending up in the kitchen. Standing over the sink filled with empties, I while scarf down a bowl of yogurt and granola, washing it down with bitter black coffee. I listen to the wind. All the emptiness of the whole of Iowa seems to howl around the house uniting with the loneliness inside me.

Under the bed, later, I find my car keys and walk with my package toward the garage. My right shoulder aches. It feels as if there is a wing underneath the skin just waiting to unfold. I want to run, never stop until I can fly away. Suddenly, I am aware that my head is hot and itchy as I jump in the car and ease down the street which is finally showing signs of life, buses on route, and SUVs casting shadows.

I roll past the brick posts entering the cemetery and park in front of a skinny elm. I stop to admire a dark angel statue standing on a gravestone. One of the wings angles toward the grassy earth, the other one is half-raised toward the sky as dark and dull as the creases in the night. Her hooded head is bent, shadowy, and faceless at this angle. I move on with the wind to my back. My keep moving but I cannot feel the ground. My head is woozy. I knell before a small white tombstone etched with a lamb grazing on tall grass. I hesitate and then pull out a loaf of pan de muerto from the paper bag. I take a bite; a slight orange zest sparks on my tongue, and leave the rest on my daughter’s grave.

A dog with broken fangs runs past me. Then a rusty car with a broken antenna, covered with bird feces stops. A young woman with an infant in a skeleton costume asleep in the back seat rolls down her window and asks for directions out of town. Her phone is dead. I give her the directions and she gives me a sad look before she veers away. Before I can blink, the sun is a pillar of fire. I rub my eyes. Is it really them? My wife, who I have not seen in years, and daughter are walking hand-in-hand toward me, silhouetted by orange light. I start walking toward them with the pan de muerto. Everything slows down, I feel my pulse in my wrist and I fall to the ground but I keep looking up at them. I realize on the day of the dead anything can happen. In the dawn, in the shadow of the tombstone, we are a family again.


Mario Duarte: "I am that somewhat rare thing: a Latinx writer born, raised, and living in the Midwest. I am an Academic Advisor at the University of Iowa and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. My poems and short stories have appeared in aaduna, Arachne Press, Carnival, Chicago Literati, Corazón Land Review, Hinchas de Poesía, Medusa’s Laugh, Slab, Huizache, RavensPerch, Steel Toe Review, Storyscape, and Typishly."




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