Day of the Dead: An Excerpt from the novel, Floricanto Press, 2010

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What does your mind seek?

Where is your heart?

If you give your heart to each and every thing

you lead it nowhere; you destroy your heart.

Can anything be found on earth?


Be Sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

--1 Peter, 5:8


It is said by the old ones that without human blood, the Sun would cease to give life, that sacrifice fuels Coatlicue, the embodiment of the cosmos. Coatlicue thrives on death, in the struggle of oppositions most perfectly expressed in war.  Only through its waging can existence be prolonged.  I, Berto Morales, in the midst of war, in the midst of terrible loss and death, have given myself to this dictate of the cosmos.

One night, a year ago, I found myself standing in deep woods, a paralytic unable to step forward. In the dark, the stars blanketed by black clouds, I listened.  For what?  A sound.  Any sound. A cricket in darkened longing, a creature scuttling for protective brush, a coyote howling for unseen comfort.  To be alive.  To hear life.  And it came to me.  Slowly, deeply, the beat of my heart.

My heart is full of hatred, inhabited by the black twin. I have cultivated it, fed it as a freezing man might feed a dying fire.  Watching for signs of dimming embers, always at the ready to stir them up, to pile on fresh, dry wood as I rub my cold hands over the warmth upon which I know life depends.

The nine levels of Mictlán are to be traversed by the spirits of los muertos, wandering through each underworld, each deeper than the last, the fleshless made to undergo a series of trials for four years before rest can be earned.  The black twin, the red twin, are said to have battled through these levels in order to bring redemption.  My curse is that the red twin, love, has bled to death in my soul, and peace has died with it.

It is said that only the warrior dying in glorious battle can move directly to the fourth heaven.  And so I have dedicated myself to this, my only hope of redemption, la calle roja, the bloody road.  And if this slim hope of salvation is but a chimera, a brutal and faithless dream, I will have lost nothing because there is nothing left in this charred heart to lose.

But my heart is not dead even though all that it hungers for no longer lives. My wife, our child unborn, never to be.  My home burned. My heart so heavy with grief that until now, I dared not pause to think.

It is said that the sorrowful, tired unto death, filled with the courage to find relief at the end of a rope, are led to heaven by Ixtab the moon, the goddess of the gallows. They find grace in the death angel’s lunacy.  But I have no rope, and more so, lack the faith for such valor.

The Maya, obsessed with the cosmic end, their calendars and astronomy calculated to predict the apocalypse, trace the movement of the planet Venus.  They believe the cosmos is a battlefield, an eternal cycle of violence.  They do not seek meaning so much as they seek to live with its movement rather than against it.  If it be strife, then to seek peace would be futile, an act of self-delusion.

I remembered in that dark wood how hatred had rescued me before. How as a young man I had taken it in hand, like a hammer or sickle, and killed. Hatred scorched its half, consuming much of the flesh of my hand while somehow salvaging my soul.  I recalled how before, as a child, hatred had stoked my fury to flame and hastened my escape. In a moment I burnt my captor’s house and brought its roof down upon his head. I resolved to hate anew, to fill the emptiness of my cleaved heart with murder so that a furious balance might be created, so that I might be able to move, if not forward, then backward.

I am to be executed in the morning, a target pinned to my chest, my heart’s life extinguished. I go willingly. To this, you alone bear witness. This is no confession. It is merely a telling. An admission that the grit lingering in my mouth is the only taste left of this, my last year. It is all I have retained, this vestige of my journey, the ashes of my past. My life, my death, my story.

I am Berto Morales. I am the false son of a nameless and blind man. I am War. I took his land through a pretense. I am Pestilence. When his heir returned to claim his birthright, I killed him. I am Murder.  His comrades returned to find me, and failing to do so, took the life of my wife and child. I was Love. I determined to meet injustice with injustice. I am Hatred. I brought war to those who ended my life. I am Executioner. I am guilty of sins that have no name. I have come to the slaughter uninvited and have determined to give my life freely. 

It is an empty gift from a man long dead.