A Violent Noise
You have always been traveling, on the edge of the wind, even before you were born; a speck of dust thrust across the universe by the explosion of SN-1054; a sky illuminated, blues and greens dancing in the night, traveling at light-speed into the eyes of women and men, transformed onto paintings on walls; light beyond light, a new beginning; life, death, and the cosmic all wrapped into one; a trail of you, stardust, aged for perfection. Eras universal. A painting on a wall in a canyon you visited as a child, your hand perfectly aligned with a hand on the wall. You felt like you had been here before. You placed your hand against it, the rock pressed against your hand; a few grains of sand knocked loose. Nothing is eternal and even fewer things leave more than an echo. Your mother, you heard her in the distance calling your name. You closed your eyes, hoping to disappear, but she found you, her hands imprinted upon you, her fingers leaving traces like birds’ wings on your shirt.
You have always been moving, hard to pin down, like neurons shooting, faster than light, firing on full, across the pathway of a brain, nonstop, since before you could even walk; full strides, longer than your little legs could manage, much more than you could take; full-on sprinting - the blood of the Rarámuri running through veins, pushing your muscles for miles at a time. Running out that door after the argument with your mom and dad, racing the cars down the street; if you had wings you would have taken flight and moved away. You ended up at the park down the street, swaying back and forth on a swing, watching the changing of the sky, from blue, to orange, purplish-pink. What was that argument even about? You walked home, your path lit by stars.
You have always been prone to outbursts; your mind filled with wisdom from los antiguos, trying hard to escape from your heart through your vocal chords into the world. At times, frustration, a violent noise, bursting forth into the world. You have been blessed with un regalo y la lacra. One morning on your way to school a group of girls was waiting for you. Laura had been spreading chisme amongst them, telling them that you were trying to get with Julian, Ramona’s boyfriend. The girls rushed towards you, and you threw your backpack down. You don’t remember the fight, only the guttural screams you let out.
You have always existed, in a way, always been around, a genetic memory come to life, a story that was passed down. Your mother’s thick hair, father’s smile, grandfather’s sense of humor, and abuela’s smarts.
You have always felt like you were thrust upon your familia, un dificultad, especialmente para tu mama, who barely survived you. She took every opportunity to remind you of this; as your held her hand, you taking your first steps, smiling at her, a giggle escaping your lips, the sour look upon her face; as you held her hand, trying to comfort her when your abuelita didn’t wake up that one morning, your hands in her hair, your tears and gasps filling in the blank spaces of the room, her eyes burning through you; mientras sostienes su mano, her turquoise ring sliding off her middle finger, patches of what once was full, luscious black hair, waves that you used to swim across in your bed at night to put you to sleep, your arms doubled around her body, the cancer eating away at her, “Look at you. ¿Cómo puedes ser mi hija?” she whispers, while trying to squeeze your hand with all her might, in what you had hoped were not her final words. As you gave the eulogy at her funeral, you were reminded of her omnipotence; the power cut out, the microphone turned off. Once again, she had silenced you.
You remember, vaguely, when you were seven or eight, sitting on your father’s lap, as he tells your brother, “Cuídala, porque serás responsable de lo que hace.” Watch her. You’re responsible for what she does. You were fast, curious, and impulsive. That same night, you saw your father packing up a mochilla, preparing for a meeting. You never asked him where he was going or who he was planning to meet.
You have always known how this comes to an end. You should have seen it coming, but your body was two strides ahead of your mind.
Your first brush came as you went for a bike ride, your brother in front, leading you down 32nd Street, moving between the sidewalk and street, the click-clack-click-clack-click of your spokes, him glancing over his shoulder to make sure you were following, his hair flapping in the wind, the polyphonic melody created by your two laughs morphing into one.
In the distance, you saw him, a man, a white man, pale, with shining not-green, not-blue eyes, blocking your path. You shouted to your brother, causing him to swerve and fall off his bike. You glanced again and the pale man wasn’t there. “What was that? Why’d you do that?” he screamed at you.
“You didn’t see him?”
“The man in the suit.”
He looked around. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
You helped your brother brush off, headed home, while tears streamed down your face.
You looked back, and there he was, the man, smiling at you.
You clearly remember, irrefutably, your brother, inviting you to a party, when you were fifteen. “This shit is going to be off the hook. You in?” he said. “Claro que si,” you said, because you were always down for some pendejadas, always looking to get into some stupid shit. And you knew he would always protect you, like he did, from that pale man.
The two of you walked down Lipan, making your way slowly towards 38th, the sidewalks covered in snow, the two of you choosing to walk down the freshly plowed street instead. You couldn’t risk getting your Saturday night finest dirty. A car moved towards the two of you, flashing their headlights, trying to blind you. Carlitos waved his hands in the air and laughed. “That punk ass. It’s Beto.”
You weren’t laughing. There had always been an ever-present fear surrounding you since that bike ride.
You had never really talked to Beto, but Carlitos—you have always called him Carlitos, while everyone else called him Carlos, later just ‘Los—had told you all about him. Beto’s parents had owned a chain of restaurants throughout Denver, six or seven of them, a rarity for someone from your neighborhood. Beto siempre tuvo the best toys; his parents, the coolest rides.
Carlos had been there, at Beto’s tenth birthday party, the night that Roberto Sr. had killed his wife, Señorita Carmen. The kids had all been outside, a bounce castle in the backyard, a handful of them playing catch with a Denver Broncos superstar, whom you later found out was a frequent customer of Roberto Sr.’s other business, when the shots rang out through the neighborhood. Your mom and dad ran out of the house, down the street in search of the gunshots, passing by you, leaving you unattended.
You waited, hours or minutes, bouncing your ball, waiting for them to come back. Your dad carried your brother home, a stream down both of their faces. Had your father ever cried before? Your mom sat on the curb, watching as the cops pulled up and arrested Roberto, as they took away a body on a gurney, you bouncing the ball next to her the whole time.
You remember the picture of Señorita Carmen upon your family’s ofrenda, her dress the same color as the cempasuchil, both popping off the shelf. Following Día de Muertos, your mom would let you take some of the flowers down and let you drop them off a bridge, an offering to those who had been forgotten. You and Carlitos would walk down to the railyard bridge off of 46th and drop the Aztec marigolds on the backs of passing trains.
Carlitos makes his way into the street, towards the driver’s side of the car while you wait. Beto and Carlos laugh and shake hands. Carlos talks, longer than he needs to.
You could hear it, the fooo-pheww of the siren clicking on and off, the lights flashing as the cops turned down the street, illuminating the vapor of your breath moving in slow motion across the air, Quetzalcoatl flowing in the darkness.
“What are you guys up to?” says the officer, his flashlight scanning across Carlos, the boys in the car, their silhouettes shouting out to you for help. You remember temporary paralysis, your body unable to move.
The second officer slowly gets out of the car, his flashlight mounted to top of his gun, drawn, fixed on you. You have always known the man would find you, because he had always been there, always waiting, always present. Siempre ha tenido una cantidad de tiempo finita. And there he was.
The second officer yells to you, asking you to get out of the way of the car.
Carlitos moves towards you, telling the officer, “She’s okay.” His head turns to you, always looking to let you know that things would be okay. Then he falls to the ground. Your ears ring, your heart so loud that it blocks out as you hold him in your arms trying your hardest to squeeze life back into him, to see his eyes recognize you again.
You scream, your eyes shut, as one of the officers shouts at you.
“Shut the fuck up!” He tries to pull you away, your shirt covered with remnants of life from your brother, but you struggle to hold on. You hear a man shouting, “What have you done to that boy?” and the officer lets you go. You look around, neighbors standing on their porches, cell phones in hand. The police helicopter floats overhead, the sound reminding you of a hummingbird, fluttering and quivering.
One night near Carlitos’ birthday you dreamt of a field, covered in Cempasuchil, all different colors, radiant like the sun. You walked along the field and laid down. When you awoke, you had turned into a flower, all the colors combined, perched on a hilltop. A tiny hummingbird approached, its wings vibrating and pulsating, and landed on you.
We call ourselves Cachanillas
Because we grow like the shrub
In the face of scarce water and relentless sun.
That’s one way to tell it.
The truth is we built our homes from the reeds like a helot.
Their impenetrable thickets
Form a wall, climb the sky.
Among the brambles spy
A flower of violet
Fronterizos at the border,
Sweaty palms, documents in hand,
Queueing hours for the promised land.
That’s one way to do it.
Those without brave the wall or another conduit.
Metal bars impenetrably close
Form a wall ten meters high,
Before a patrolman’s eye
Polleros in cargo trucks
Smuggle those who hope to cross
While their lungs fill with exhaust.
One last breath before diving in the dragon’s den,
Dante’s descent into the minds of men
Hard-nosed and uniformed,
Probing questions and sighs,
Easier to fit through a needle’s eye
Than show my insides
And this happens every time
California, purgat’ry beyond a mirage of green grass,
In the shadow of the underpass, the earth is parched
Yet the arrowweed grows.
When I read Manuel Aragon’s piece, I was immediately struck by the blend of cosmic and Mexican imagery. The story uses vibrant, evocative language to tell a grounded story of family, loss, and authority. As an immigrant, these themes evoked my early childhood in the border town of Mexicali. Manuel’s use of the cempasúchil (Aztec marigold) in his story inspired me to look to a plant familiar to my hometown: the cachanilla (arrowweed). In my poem, I explore the tightrope walk that is dealing with immigration officers at the border crossing and what it’s like growing up in the shadow of the wall.
Manuel Aragon is a Latinx writer, director, and filmmaker from Denver, CO. He is currently working on a short story collection, Norteñas. Norteñas is a collection of speculative fiction short stories centered in the Northside, a Mexican and Mexican-American centered part of Denver, and the people, ghosts, and demons that live there.
His work has appeared in ANMLY. His short story, “A Violent Noise,” was nominated for the 2020 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. He is a 2021 Periplus Collective Fellow, a 2021 NYFA IAP Mentor, and a 2023 Tin House Residency winner. He is also a Colorado Book Award finalist as editor of the anthology, All The Lives We Ever Lived: Vol 2.
He is a graduate of NYU’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. His film work - writing and directing - has been featured on MTV, Pitchfork, and Stereogum. He most recently won the CineLatino Pitch Latino Award for Emerging Filmmakers with his web series, Welcome to the Northside, a comedic take on gentrification and Latino displacement in North Denver.
Jaime Sandoval is a queer writer from Baja California based in Los Angeles. They were a 2022 Periplus Fellow. Jaime’s work can be found in Masque & Spectacle Journal and Westwind Journal, or at jaimesando.wordpress.com.