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The Hungry Lions

This author is a recipient

of the Sigma Tau Delta Award

Sigma Tau Delta Awarde

Karina Marquez ('22)

is a BHIS Provider at Heart and Solutions (BHIS = Behavioral Health Intervention Service) in Davenport, Iowa. One of her favorite SAU memories is sitting on a bench: the one on a hill next to the Beehive that's alone and oversees like a third of campus. A fun fact about Marquez is that she does photoshoots of her roommate's cats. She mostly writes poetry for fun, but has dabbled in fiction too!


“Como cruzas un puente lleno de leones muertos-de-hambre?” my dad used to ask me. How do you cross a bridge filled with starved-to-death lions?

The scene in my head would take shape: Me, standing in a jungle, facing a shaky bridge made of wood and rope. The bridge sways over a deep cliff. Scattered about are the lions and we lock eyes.

I’d stand in front of him and our family friends—a sea of plastic lawn chairs and condensation-dotted Coronas––and answer with pride. That was our party trick; he’d shoot riddles and I’d have the responses ready. Everyone loved it, and I loved nothing more than to be fawned over.


Muerto-de-hambre does not mean the same thing in English and Spanish. It connotes a lot more beyond an exaggeration of hunger.


In 2008, all I knew was that we were leaving our temperate California home and moving to Chicago (a city I was convinced was on a boat). We had to give up Brownie and Snowball before moving. My little sister and I were distraught; we had already lost two other bunnies the year prior.

Floresita, Little Flower, had accidentally choked to death one afternoon when her collar got stuck under a rusty chair leg. I was the one who found her. We’d gone to Costco—my version of Disneyland. Still full from all the samples I’d had, I ran ahead to the yard and spotted her. Picked her up—surprised––when a carnal feeling of dread came over me. I dropped her warm little corpse and screamed.

Baby, on the other hand, died of rabbit diabetes, we think.

I woke up to my sister sobbing, telling me Baby wasn’t moving. She pet him fervently, running her stubby fingers over his cold fur, hoping he’d get better.


My mom tried her own unsuccessful version of the riddle trick with me, asking “Con quien te vas? Con melon o con sandia?” every so often. The difference was that we rarely had an audience and she waited too intently on the response.

The lilt of the question is a fond memory, a song in my memory. But the inquiry itself just serves as foreshadowing: Who will you go with? With cantaloupe or watermelon?

“With both. I love you both,” I’d answer to her dissatisfaction.


Muerto-de-hambre can also mean that in the face of extravagance, you are lacking. 


The first year of college, I found that I could survive with $25 worth of groceries every two weeks. It was affordable and enough to get me the basics: milk, bread, peanut butter, frozen berries, and oatmeal.

As a kid, my mom gave me quesadillas with beans when money was tight. Now I had cinnamon-flavored oats and an unfilled hole waiting for me in my roommate’s mini-fridge.


I was often sick as a kid—tonsillitis, strep, the flu—you name it, I had it. My parents were tired while I licked my ER-provided popsicles. Once home, they’d dunk me in Vapo-Rub, heat up a corn tortilla, place the warm halves on each foot, put socks over them, and send me to bed.

I’d wake up with stiff half-moons crunching under my steps as I walked, feeling slightly better than the night before, ready for the next round.


My first time living alone was my senior year of high school. I was left with rent to pay and no furniture besides my bed, bookshelves, a side table, and a folding chair. The world got small then.


One of my favorite meals as a kid was spaghetti and meatballs. The pasta was entertaining, a game of twirling and slurping. I’d eat my pasta happily, pushing the meat aside. Once I was done, I’d see my sister had eaten all but the noodles.

This moment was key. We would snicker and switch our plates. Eager to have more of our favorite.

My mom would watch as we devoured what she’d made, smiling, her shoulders heavy from life’s work. She still tells the stories, boasts of how we complemented each other so well. 


A muerto-de-hambre fixates on what they don’t have and sabotages the comfort of those who do.


At my sister’s funeral, my mom cornered me. Why didn’t I care? Why didn’t I get the diagnosis instead? Daddy’s girl this, and mommy’s girl that.

Who would I go with? Cantaloupe or Watermelon? I had an answer this time, but she was not asking.

It was a scene—yelling and screaming—getting dragged into another room. It was a whirlpool of people in an empty expanse. The rain that night seemed to swirl in the wind while I waited for the tears to come.

I had not cried yet then, had not comprehended the fundamentals of loss. Her grief swallowed me, enclosed me in her womb, and didn’t let me out for a long while. We both starved then.


Recently, I had a bout of the bird flu. My boyfriend and I were bedridden for days—high fevers, coughs, exhaustion, loss of appetite. We took turns nursing each other back to health, taking advantage of our fluctuating states of misery. In the midst of the retching, I thought of the tall pile of spring rolls I’d made before feeling the effects of the cursed avian flu. Perfectly wrapped rice paper enveloping cucumbers, noodles, bok choy—all of them gone to waste. I mourned what could have been and willed for recovery. I wondered if my sister would have eaten them for me.


How do you cross a bridge filled with leones muertos-de-hambre?

At the mouth of the bridge, I wonder if the weakened lions are ravenous enough to pounce, to use the last of their energy and take me down with them. I break our locked stare and ready myself to sprint—to swing over them—to shoot them with poisonous darts or throw them slabs of raw meat as a distraction.

Ultimately, the answer to the riddle is simple: you walk past them because they’re already dead.

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