Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez


A Carnival Evening by Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau

When Jesus walked He walked on concrete. Barefoot over sidewalk glass and sewer slits. His body a crisp white t-shirt and his blood pooled on the street. His disciples followed in basketball shorts– stomachs bloated with rice dinners and heels pruned with weight. They carried crosses around their necks in gold. Even if they faded silver, even if their skin shaded green. Loyalty weighs more than pride– at least that’s what my Mama says. After He vanished they kept on walking. Over glass. On ash. Through the smog, to the smoke.

Bethlehem is in Oakland, on the corner of Foothill and High. It’s beneath an overpass, plump with bodies that stand together in something like worship. Their eyes follow cars turning in discs, ears pierced with zirconia and rubber squealing on pavement. As they walk toward it they listen to crashing, a bumper swerves and strikes a hydrant. Water shoots up like a Fourth of July sparkler and the first summer rain smacks down onto Foothill. Air cakes beneath Air Forces– the last time they ran this fast an ice-cream truck circled the block, a pitbull raced down Bancroft, a gun shook ripe and ready.

People say Oakland is beautiful for all the wrong reasons. Somewhere in that manmade lake someone is drowning. Somewhere in Piedmont’s gutters there’s blood. East Oakland became East Oakland because it was East, pushed to a thumbnail edge and hidden beneath skin. But you’d never be able to tell now. Now people from all over come to find hostels. Walking backwards into a nativity not to witness birth, but to witness murder. To see pools of red cradled in their white palms. White people fled violently and returned violently, and now everybody has to become nocturnal just to see faces as dark as theirs against the sky.

So they push forward in darkness to witness birth. They leap over wire fences, their ankles grazing barbed wire, their skin bloody and unafraid. Everybody’s stepped on worse: their mama’s needle, their daddy’s toes. Through the cement they see smoke a block down. When they find the mouth of the 880 their heels skid to a stop.

They point their fingers like smoking pistols. Shoot sharp fingertips at glistening spinning rims, their round silver reflecting off of their chrome teeth. They gather with broad bodies in an open circle, their sneakers wet between a four-way intersection. Atop them, cars sandwich along a freeway shoulder, drivers stand atop the hoods of their cars, legs dangle from the ledge of the highway. Everyone gasps with every sharp turn, night air whistling between gold teeth. Their chests swell with lungfuls of exhaust, they cough black for days.

Kids are round-mouthed and wide-eyed. They watch cars loop in circles wide like mango seeds, tight like peach stones. Everything cycling like sirens on a cul-de-sac, white fingers pointing at brown bodies, oranges sold on the side of the street, mothers mothering mothers, bullets perforating skin, their father’s hand on their mother’s face.

Hands are tight on a steering wheel and heads pop out from a sunroof, howling to a moon no one’s looking up to see. And then a fist hooks like a needle, and a nose runs like tap water. Then, a pop. Hail Mary and Joseph, blood mixes holy on the street. It stains a white t-shirt both in unity and separation. It’s July but it never thunders in Oakland. When the shot rings, they all know what the sound is.

Everyone scatters. Trails down Foothill, Bancroft, and High. When they sprint home they run in the center of the road and stop to catch their breath on a street divider. They wink an eye up to the moon, jab their fingernails up to scale. They eye constellations, study them before they disappear into a dawn of light. Before everything is interrupted with the newscast forecasting brown violence– a bleaching reminder that the streets get cleaned come sunrise.

They slow their run to a walk for the first time in an hour. They balance their feet on yellow dividing lines, approaching their porches with their shirts scented of salt and gasoline. One of them shifts— Did you see that swerve? All of them nod, all of them cross themselves, all of them say amen.


About the writer:
Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez is a writer from Oakland, California. Her work is primarily focused on the intersecting veins of urban communities, the Latinx identity, and personal trauma. She is primarily a fiction writer, but experiments with the forms of memoir, flash fiction, and prose poetry. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and she is currently elementary school teacher.

Image: A Carnival Evening by Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau (1844-1910). Oil on canvas. 46.22 x 35 27 inches. 1884. Public domain.