BY JONATHAN MARCANTONI
Anonymous Crime Scene Photo
The body lies on its back, covered in a white sheet turned cream by the street lamp, which we do not see. The sheet covers the body in such a way as to appear, at a distance, like a rolling hill, stretching across the trash-strewn sidewalk before collapsing, in narrow valleys and sharp inclines, upon the cement. The illuminated corpse is not attended to by medics, or shocked crowds. There is no weeping mother. More noticeably, there is no face. The sheathed corpse could be in black and white were it not for the graffiti, a massive S swallowing a P, both in blood red that in the dim afterglow of the streetlight appears maroon, and the fact that these are clearly Latin letters indicates we must be in Europe or the Americas. The buildings themselves are made of brick and stone and from what we can see are in good condition, the graffiti covering only the metallic doors that shop owners use overnight, and so we must be in a business district.
How the mind wanders, trying to pinpoint the exact location of this event? Paris? Brussels? Berlin? Rome? New York City? And why is this body left alone by authorities and ignored by the public? Could there be greater carnage we are not privileged to see? Was this a terrorist attack? And if it is a terrorist attack, and in a white city no doubt, of a white country run by white people, there is no question that the media is eating this up. How many other victims are there? Ten, twenty? In Nigeria there were a multitude; nobody cared. Many more in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia; nobody cared, and they cared even less when worse happened on the streets of Raqqa and Baghdad.
How this body, alone on a street, lacks just enough details, just enough concrete emotions, to allow you, the viewer, to fill in whatever blanks reside in our soul.
Is our soul made of the enraged screams for justice that permeate the void of social media? Is our soul one that feeds on shaming strangers on the other side of the world, across oceans reaching back to our native shores, crossing our state’s lines and inhabiting our very neighborhood? Could we tell these people to their faces how much we despise them for caring about this body and not one that looks different than they do? That speaks another language? Follows a different religion? What makes this body so special, anyway?
There will be a wave of text filling our screens, disparate voices speaking the same words, words like euro-centric white supremacist misogynistic privilege; that is what this body so artfully represents. The absence of mourning does not make it an object of pity but of superiority, for it is the body of all bodies, singular and dominant, oppressive in how it mocks the millions of others who die with faces naked in the sun.
This body divides us into the tribes of yesterday, tribes of color and class, along lines the enlightened masses of Internet cowardice would like to believe we have transcended as a species so we can enter an age of harmony.
But is harmony human nature? Or nature at all? Sharks do not cry for a safe zone when another shark steals their food, and when a lion loses a fight it does not seek out a therapist. Nature is cold, ordered, so ordered that when the order is disrupted nature lashes out to reclaim the stability it was always meant to harbor. Nature is, above all, encompassing, unquestionable, uncomfortable.
Mankind is not prepared to face the futility of the reality that this body, and all dead bodies, have no ethnicity and no labels, they are merely flesh and bone destined to rot, be ravaged, swallowed up, forgotten.
This body, which we claim to care so much about, was in fact a human being unrelated to us, with a life, a job, a family, and a name, which this body will never speak again. This body, which demands silence, which demands the dignity of the rest of unconsciousness, receives only the noise of all the agendas on our screens, blinding us all to our inevitable fate; this world wide culture that values shame and judgment over empathy and understanding, the silence that necessitates both.
Jonathan Marcantoni is a Puerto Rican educator and author based in Colorado. He is co-founder of the YouNiversity Project which mentors aspiring authors. His love of surrealism and experimentation led to his portrait style, pictured here, and used in his forthcoming novel Tristiana (Floricanto Press, 2016). You can follow him on Twitter @Marcantoni1984 or visit his website jonathanmarcantoni.com.