“In many places of [Mexico] has been a social transformation [sic]; there are now more empty playgrounds, abandoned streets and tension.”
– Israel Martinez
At first, all you can hear are footsteps and the intermittent sounds of birds chirping. Then, a lone voice, a street performer singing through a microphone attached to a portable amp. His song lilts through the growing bustle of pedestrian traffic and street chatter and vendors ringing their bells. We have found ourselves, somehow, in the middle of some urban thoroughfare, on the surface no different from the kind you’d traverse in any city anywhere in the world.
And then it begins. Soft at first, a gentle, distant buzzing, but increasing in volume until it eclipses the rest of the metropolitan noise. The sound of flies.
II. The Burial of the Dead
“Other descriptive neologisms for the disposal of murder victims include encajuelados (dead bodies stuffed in car trunks), ensabanados (bodies wrapped in sheets), encobijados (bodies wrapped in blankets), entambados (bodies stuffed in metal barrels, often along with acid or wet cement), enteipados (bodies wrapped in industrial tape), etc. In these expressions, attaching the preposition en to a participial verb converts the verb into an adjective or noun; each shift is grammatically marked by a morpheme; and the active verb implies an act of violence at the level of grammar, since en implies the placing or rendering of a human body inside something it would not normally be inside.”
– Howard Campbell, Drug War Zone
Cowering in the shadow of some great industrial beast. And all around us is the knocking, the grinding, the pounding of its unnatural organs. The birds screech, panicked and threatening, their shrill cries slipping like razors through the juddering of its innards. We could cover our ears, but it won’t dull the cacophony, won’t cover the acrid scent of animal panic. It seems like it’s an eternity in passing over us, until, all at once, it is receding into the distance, disappearing into the delicate pitter-patter of the rain.
Then that buzzing again. Different than before. Mechanical. Artificial. Through the buzzing we can hear something like digging. Like a shovel breaking the skin of rocky soil, carving out another hole in the desert.
III. From My Laptop I Can Watch at a Distance
“We change where we live every month. We’ve been in basements. It’s very difficult. We hide our equipment in different places. If the authorities get close we run.”
– “Lucy,” founder of Mexico’s Blog del Narco
You take a sip of your coffee and open your web browser, looking to check Facebook or Twitter or email before starting your day, and there it is. You tell yourself not to click on it, but you know you’re going to: another story about an assassination of a Mexican official or a grisly mass execution carried out in some public space. There’s a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the kind that comes when an abstract horror is made momentarily tangible, the kind that comes when you realize just how privileged and how helpless you are. You whisper to yourself something that lands between a curse and prayer, and you close the browser and begin your day.
IV. The Sound of Water
“If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But the sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drip drop drop
But there is no water”
– T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
The track “Ojodeagua” opens with the sound of the surf rolling into shore, transforms into the deafening roar of water surging in a pressurized stream, then into the peaceful babbling of a brook, and eventually back to a roar once more. Hearing it makes me think of Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” in which water is used to symbolize the hope for rebirth in a world no longer capable of sustaining life. I don’t know if “rebirth” was what Martinez had in mind when composing the piece. The water’s roar is not a reassuring sound, nor a particularly hopeful one. It arrives with jarring suddenness and goes on for too long. Listening too closely to the piece makes me anxious. But, then, rebirth itself is a terrifying thing. Why else would the figures in Eliot’s poem be so fearful of it?
When the buzzing returns, it is almost a comfort.
People living in Mexico can close their browsers whenever they want, too, but they’ll still have to drive past the bodies on their way to work.