by David Boeving
I first heard of “acoustic shadows” while watching Ken Burns’ Civil War. During the American Civil War, acoustic shadows were zones where observers could see a battle—the soldiers, the smoke, the blood—but could not hear the fighting. Environmental elements—the trees, the water, the wind—absorbed or refracted the sound.
A field of gravel or dust. A small-leaf tree. Scattered bushes. In the distance, dark mountain cuts into grey sky. This all, frozen in 240p, and then 720 when I find another upload. Five men. Music stalled, they stand, staring at what was a camera, staring at me, sort of, their hair displaced by wind, hands in pockets, eyes pierce the window the camera films through. The window partitions are black silhouette. Imposed in the frame, left aligned, near the bottom of the screen, are these words in white serif, “Maquiladoras, meaning ‘twin plants,’ are American-owned factories based in Mexico. These factories use cheap Mexican labor and avoid tariffs.” I’m elsewhere, imagining train tracks where remains have been, sandaled feet, hardly buried. I read that one girl was thirteen. I imagine a video from middle school, quinceañeras. I imagine bus rides, punch cards, a magazine from elementary school that detailed the struggles of migrant farmers and their families. I hear the music that brought me here, some product of this snapshot of youth, sometime during high school, lyrics I only now dig into. Callous heels / numbed in travel / endless maps made / by their scalpels. Lyrics tug me toward images I’ll never see.
The search leads me here. Black chairs. Blue button-ups cover red undershirts. Plastic goggles cover eyes focused down on hands. White gloves. Dark hair wrapped tight with elastic, pressed to hunched spine. A breast-packed coop. All this through backlit liquid crystal. The glass—vertical and horizontal polarizer, color filter, thin-film transistor—the dust—pollen, hair, fiber, soil, skin—I see. But I hear nothing. How could I? I imagine debeaking—a heated blade device—a shanty hearth, smokestacks like smoke signals, as if to say, the abduction is nearby. The white serif fades. “Women who work the night shift must take busses to the outskirts of the Shantytowns where they live. Some never reach home.” I imagine federales uprooting bodies, weed smoke burials, cocaine epitaphs. Intravenously polite / It was the walkie-talkies that knocked the pins down. I imagine families planting crosses, murder pink, a mass grave crop that can’t bloom, a crucifix machine, this tourist trap. I imagine that near the flower bed, those still alive, those still at work, sew shoes, jeans, couches, goods that—I imagine—I might have bought. These threads are so intricately designed.
And then, another photo. Tan skin. Dark hair elastic-wrap fallen on uniform back. Dark eyes focused down. Mouths covered by surgical mask. Aligned beside conveyer belt, each body lit by a low-hanging light. Their hands planted behind piles of what look like pants. Blue jeans. Cardboard in-between. I imagine these dahlias like gang weed that’s buried too late, too deep. The crops too close to one another to bloom in this season or any climate, elevation, precipitation. And they made sure the obituaries / showed pictures of smoke stacks. But the business profits anyway. And in the dim grid I can’t see much suffering. Whatever that might mean. Maybe fluorescence whitewashes the bodies disappeared yearly. Maybe they’re more present as the seams wear. “Countless bodies have been found in this area.”
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