The International Writers Magazine: An address
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and
go to the grave with the song still in them.”
— Henry David Thoreau
The greeting thundered through the atmosphere and startled Mura Kami, until she realized the sound was generated by her own vocal chords amplified by a vigorous sound system announcing with rigorous and close to brutal force and precision, to several scores of graduates, their progenitors, and significant others gathered for their graduation ceremony, that in front of them stood a multitude of one.
Mura Kami was her given name. Mura: to reflect the practicality of her spirit. Kami: to deliver the spirit of her ancestors. She saw herself as a human being first, then as a woman, but never as ethnic as her name might suggest; not out of disrespect or shame, but out of a certain naivete that made her see herself, and people in general, as human beings first, and then as whatever their speech or demeanor reflected that might reinforce or contradict her initial perception of them. She had memorized this assertion to repeat it to people who asked why her adoptive parents had given her that appellation; instead of Cindy or Wendy, to go along with the surname of Smith.
The sonic boom of her own voice vibrating through the air had a sobering effect on her senses. Mura Kami noticed, as if heard for the first time, the implacably demanding presence of the gathered crowd which consisted of mostly young, mostly white and vaguely familiar faces, whose features, from the vantage point and considerable distance where she stood in relation to them, seemed to vibrate like a swarm of insects feasting on a pile of freshly released dung.
For a brief moment, which in her mind seemed to have lasted ions, she hesitated. She raised her eyes from the torturous white pages that reflected the brilliance of the noon-time sun, to look beyond the swarm of faces into a vacuous infinity which seemed to reflect the burden she felt in her guts, and chest, and mind, that pressed her spirit on-and-off, like the after image of the pages floating in the air and appearing and disappearing from her sight with every blink of her dry eyes.
Mura Kami lifted her eyes from her notes. The printed cheat sheets sat neatly arranged on the podium in front of her, pinned down by the open palm of her trembling hand to prevent any gust of wind from robbing her of the precision of her pithy words she had labored to produce, and was ready to deliver with the right tone, at the right time, with the right amount of pathos to the expectant crowd of parents, siblings, and significant others.
She rolled her eyes down slowly, with the temerity of a prosecutor about the debacle the defense attorney’s shoddy arguments, and regarded the pages that she had neatly emblazoned, with just the right amount of words, sentences, and paragraphs, no more, no less, than the occasion had inspired and demanded, which she intended to deliver to the impatient crowd of eager young people, tolerating parents, impatient siblings, and drooling babies. She stared at the loud, pesky, persistent, palpable words she had carefully put together the night before; the longer she looked, the less they seemed to reflect the truth embedded in her heart.
She paused. She thought about the task she had embarked on, which consisted of channeling the energy of her universe, using a few well chosen words, manufactured to communicate abstractions: exemplary of what humanity, of what the virginal expectant graduates, should strive towards, after severing that final chord that would release them from the comfort of the academic womb to the discomfort of the known world.
This realization shocked her mind with the force of a thousand bolts of electricity. It penetrated the very marrow of her bones and transported her, like a shimmering spark, beyond her visible horizon. The electrifying buzz of randomly emitted murmurs from the throng, mixed with their incessant and demanding looks, pressured Mura Kami to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help her god, any god that might be listening.
She experienced a feeling of falling, followed by a clear dizziness, induced by a shortness of breath that threatened to fracture her sanity. She experienced a futility like a child who feels incompetent when throwing stones at the moon and stars. She stood motionless as the sun continued its journey in the sky and the wind carried the fickle clouds, swarms of birds crossed the horizon, and the earth continued its rotating motion.
With strength and conviction, and a certain addiction to the attention she had garnered; which impending doom and fear seemed to always inspire, Mura Kami gained enough strength to rip the formidable pages that contained her prepared speech into tiny white pieces and released into the blowing wind. Tiny specks of white paper floated aimlessly above the startled faces of the gathered, like white doves release to signal the arrival of peace, unlike, though, the single dove with the olive branch in its beak that had signaled Noah the spark of hope that was at hand. Stunned. Impatient. Frustrated. Angry; young, old, man, woman, child, watched as the flickering white, squares, rhomboids, rectangles, floated and fell from the sky to the ground like the petals from a cherry tree shaken by the invisible talons of a vicious wind.
Mura Kami felt her voice lurch forward, propelled by a sincerity she had not felt since that moment when she had regaled a caring stranger, and forfeited to him her vail of womanhood when he had promised to be the love of her life. She ad-libbed her speech with the zest of a preacher who, having correctly guessed the sins of his congregation, felt the need to come clean and reveal his own:
“I shouldn’t be telling you this,” her voice thundered and was carried by the carefully choreographed loud speakers.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this, because, in the end, my message will only taste of sour grapes, and will not have the intended effect. I will tell it to you nonetheless. In the end, when you have drank enough of my words, they may give you pleasure, or pain, or no feeling at all, or perhaps, if you are lucky, they will relieve the lump in the back of your parched throats. Or perhaps, maybe, just maybe, my words will change your life.”
Mura Kami paused for a moment and scanned the faces of the crowd with the concentration of a weary hunter searching for a target: “Of course, I must confess, changing your life is not my intention.”
Her words were charged with a mesmerizing effect that lulled the gathered into a state of inertia with their promise of deliverance. The thundering quality of her voice, and the honesty of her delivery, electrified even the snoozing MFAs, and PHDs, and LLDs sitting behind her. The sincerity of her delivery shook the white, red, yellow, black, and brown heads, that had been bobbing, nearly dozing in the company of bored and weary strangers.
“I am not real. I am not educated. I am not the acclaimed, well respected person charged with delivering an inspiring missive to those of you ready to make your mark in an unsuspecting world. I am a fraud. I am a fraud because I cheated life.”
Mura Kami’s words had the the effect of a sharp pin about to prick a large balloon.
“I made it all up. On my own. Although I am what you might call an autodidact, self-made-scribbler, a reincarnated Keats, my degrees and acclaimed successes are worthless, designed to give me a patina of learning, designed specifically to impress, to open doors.”
No eye blinked, no face frowned, no hand clapped, no body moved.
“I hope you’re still with me.”
Her words were delivered by the loud speakers but did not appear to come from her mouth anymore, there was a delay, her lips were no longer synchronized with the sounds. Her words were an echo that floated above their heads and floated down slowly like the fragments of her choreographed speech as it hit the ground. The sounds penetrated the very soul of each and every person standing mesmerized by the force of each and every syllable blurted by the loud speakers.
“This lengthy prologue is not meant to keep you at the edge of your seat, but give you an idea of why an obscure scribbler, feels the need to let some inner demon out in letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs, to be admonished, or criticized, or ignored by unsuspecting beings like yourselves.”
In the distance, Mura Kami looked and sounded like a puppet to the gathered throng, she resembled a saw-dust marionette being controlled by the strings of some invisible inner demon that would not relent in his domination of her soul.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this, because it makes me sound pedantic. But here: my tale begins when I was ten, or two, or five, or sixteen. Let’s say sixteen. I don’t want to bore you too much detail. I will, however, tell you that I was not born in this hemisphere. I am not a native to this language and I am not as smart as I think I am. I tell you this to protect you from any guilt of association. That’s right. You don’t have to feel guilty about thinking that I must not be as smart, funny, or good looking as you think I am. I don’t want to pretend to be either. Although, from what I can tell, you will not see me as your equal. Why? because we are competitive creatures, ‘survival of the fittest” correct? we will survive if we learn to defeat each other? That’s probably the key to our relationship here.”
Can you hear me in the back?
“I still think that I should not be telling you this. Yet, there is a reason why we must go on. Why I must go on talking and you must go on listening. There is very little to be discussed about that relationship. Not now, anyway. I am just warming up. I am getting to the expository part of my tale. The exposition: I don’t know what the word expiation means, but it sounds good enough to say it, without knowing what its meaning is.”
“Still with me?
“Here is where I have to be honest and tell you that I did not study literary theory, I did not go to College, I did not go to writer’s workshops, I did not learn to write by theory, that I’m a copy cat. Even my language is borrowed. It is not my native tongue. I stole it. I stole it from books, I stole it from writers, from authors who use it and abuse it, and often confuse it.”
“So, still with me?
Her amplified question traveled across the field, dying in the distance, where a sycamore tree seemed alive with the sound of hundreds of chirping birds gathered in its sanctuary. Avian strangers flocking together to commiserate, or copulate, or tell the endless story of their short lives and long migrations, before sundown. They communicated with their secret code and voice, sharing the travails of thousands of years, and millions of changes their species had suffered and endured, in order to prevail, and continue to evolve so that their survival could be ensured, and the gather could learn and share the tales so that their stories could be carried on and retold by a new breed of oral historians.
Suddenly the tree exploded. Burst like a giant shell, displacing the birds like shrapnel, with the same intensity and similar visual acuity and gaiety of a Fourth of July fireworks display, only the sparks were not shiny but black as the color of the birds having flown, spooked by the single thunderous finality of a single gunshot, a cannon’s boom when amplified by the vigorous sound system that multiplied it with rigorous, brutal force and precision, and traversed the fields and dug deep into the ears of the scores of graduates, their progenitors, and significant others gathered for their graduation ceremony, witnessing, horrified, the culmination of the Valediction and expiation of a multitude of one.
© Oswaldo Jimenez October 2013
I don’t know the reason I went up the staircase. I don’t know why I counted each step as I went up; then again, is there a reason for anything in a dream?
In Nomine Patris
Whenever mother told the story of my father’s death, she reached into her bosom and pulled out a diminutive pewter crucifix which she wore hanging from a silver chain around her neck, and rubbed it between her thumb and index finger
In Nomine Patris II
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