“Ekphrasis of Cassandra’s Vow of Love.”
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
During the last spring semester at SMC, I taught English 57: Latin American Literature. A former student of English 2, Critical Reading and Intermediate Composition, Annie Getman enrolled immediately. By the time I started teaching the class, I was a month into my first project period at Antioch University, for my MFA. I was developing a manuscript for a novel, writing like the madwoman that I am, possessed by Federico García Lorca's DUENDE. I would wake up at 5:00 or 6:00 AM, four times a week to write for four to six hours. Sometimes, for longer. Madness and discipline well-balanced can render a honed elixir of creative and technical imagination (as Jeff Vandermeer would have it).
Annie was fascinated by the works of Latinx poets and writers, but soon became enthralled with Jorge Luis Borges' The Garden of Forking Paths, Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Memories of my Melancholy Whores, in addition to gaining profound insights in the poetry of Roque Dalton, Maria Sabina, Coral Bracho, Pablo Neruda, Xul Solar, and Delmira Agustini...just to name a few of our shared favorites.
During my brief lectures contextualizing nations, critical approaches, themes, and motifs for the texts that I've curated, Annie would doodle and draw on her notebook, capturing the body language of her classmates, and even mine. But she'd be quick to raise her hand and contribute to class discussions, stirring ensuing debates. One time, Annie walked in class over to my desk to share some academic and personal news. She had dyed her hair with a rare yellow, she was wearing an overall with stains of oil paint and watercolors, and she was a vision. I knew that her outfit and even her mien were going to inform the outfit and behavior for one of my characters in the scene that I had drafted that morning. Fashion is essential for the characters in my novel because they express their identities through their choices for attire. Another time, Annie came with a long pink flannel coat, and a T-shirt reading "Shhh" on the upper corner above where the heart is, and of course, these two items dressed [my] Brook.
Therefore, I invited Annie to pollinate my work with her creative ideas. I knew that her crafty insight would spark my imagination, and I sensed that my words recited by my daughter Magaluna, and accompanied by the tender mellifluousness of Federico Ramos' guitar would aid Annie to re-imagine this world from her own perspective.
Below, I share an excerpt from my manuscript Sunshower’s Chapter 3, entitled “Words Writ on Wild Waters.” At the bottom of this page, you'll find the video with the wondrous voice of my daughter Magaluna. She recites this journal entry I've written, as though she was this character. (This is precisely how I've imagined Cassandra's voice, which is a paradox: my daughter's voice resonating as the voice of the mother of my main protagonist.
My daughter's recitation is accompanied by my daughter's father--Federico plays the cover of Natalie Merchant's Wonder, as he knows how (the perfected movements of his fingers on the slim neck of his guitars, I know by heart, but you may see them mimicked by Miguel, the main character of Coco). The video of this synergetic work it's gorgeous, but I recommend you, dear reader, to read the excerpt first, so you may find interpretative empathy in visual and aural manifestations of art as you watch the video, afterward. Imagination takes flight when we first read words and dream the happenings they project in the screens of our minds. Right behind our eyelids.
Note: the excerpted exposition is currently under an editing magnifier.
Excerpt from WIP – Cecilia Martinez-Gil’s novel manuscript
Sunshower [Lluvia con Sol] ©
Brook had woken up three minutes before the alarm sounded, which had been set up for 6:00 am. They normally would wake up two to three minutes before a setup alarm on school days. This was always a surprise. Brook went to the kitchen to squeeze oranges, brew coffee and cook two scrambled eggs with spinach leaves served with a half-tomato with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano, and a toast with jam. They ate while listening to Sabrina Claudio’s About Time. Soothing sounds for a tranquil morning.
Brook got dressed in blue jean overalls, with a couple of colorful patches on the knees. They fastened the loose overalls with a thick faux leather belt. Underneath, Brook wore a long-sleeved t-shirt with a print of a stonewashed Saber-toothed cat from the Los Angeles Tar pit Museum. Brook applied a subtle blue eyeliner and patted Vaseline on their lips. “I need to look like I am me today,” Brook said to themself, looking in the mirror. Maybe, today people wouldn’t have the need to wonder. Brook braided their long hair, tied it in a bun and grabbed their messenger bag identical to Eric’s. Brook tied an NYU purple hooded fleece jacket around their waist and rushed toward the subway, walking swiftly tallying the beat of a song by Magaluna, Couldn’t Say it Better, singing out loud “can’t stop wondering how long you’re gonna love me.” Brook sang.
The NYU’s campus looked as though academic activities were dwindling. Freshman students were going home for the summer, and some spring courses had already finished. Brook’s last class required to complete their minor in Cultural Anthropology was ANTHRO 3, on archeology and studies of early societies and cultures, which was one of Brook’s favorite courses. The professor was showing a presentation reviewing the first weeks of the spring semester on one of the topics that Brook had enjoyed the most: the paintings on the walls of Chauvet Caves. She had started the presentation in silent, just showing slide after slide of the paintings.
Taking advantage that the classroom was dark, save for the projector’s light on the screen, Brook spent the entire class session drawing on their notebook using Cassandra’s pencils. They had written their midterm paper on rock art linking it to shamanism and rituals. They didn’t care much for a review of material that they knew in-depth, but the truth was that Brook couldn’t concentrate knowing that their birth mother had also loved caves and cave paintings. Next week’s exam would be easy peasy lemon squeezy though.
Brook sketched while repeating to themself in their mind their mother’s words. They recited it internally surprised by knowing each word:
Maybe, I am redoing my family’s dooms and curses, as Sister Agnes said. But I know that I wasn’t expected, I wasn’t planned; my existence was not to be predicted or prevented, and as far as I know, I wasn’t wanted at all. But this baby is. I vow to love my baby. Do not be dismayed bubble, you’re the consequence of surprise, and you are that which causes the awe of wonder.
You are a force of nature, a Tsunami that rolls outstretching like a big wave, roaring across the oceans, but that arrives at the shore in a gentle unraveling of foam and surf; drawing a milky way formed of saltwater beads and fizzes titillating on the sand. I’ve no idea how I am going to stand this, but I’ll try my best. True evanescence. Evanescent. Evanessence.
I had thought that uncertainty and despair were the gradients of my life before I’d known about this flower growing inside me. I had walked a broken bridge, hanging high from a thread over dry and rocky lands— an abyss. Now, at the beginning of week 18th of carrying this baby within me, I vow to carry it with love. I will not fear what it may become of me; I no longer doubt what lies within my nature, because it is in my nature where life is.
Brook translated Cassandra’s words, entitling it An Ekphrasis of Cassandra’s Vow of Love. On the page there laid a milky way glistening on the beach, and a sunflower, emerging from under the sunlight. Soft penciled lines with a grainy effect and graphite smudged by Brook’s fingertips. The negative space rendering a translucid veil or an almost transparent cloud; water, as a glass panel over the sand, revealing from beneath multiple sparks. Cassandra’s entry closed with Natalie Merchant’s lyrics of Wonder, so Brook sang it in their mind, humming imperceptibly. They thought that they might not find an explanation about their mother’s existence, but maybe, Brook would find one to their own.
Truth and beauty merging in the non-graspable and ineffable of the sublime. Brook had an idea to strengthen their final paper’s thesis statement, maybe, even rewrite the title. And their lips drew a smirk, a smile lopsided. Something like Synergy and Symbiosis of the Body. “Damn!” They said to themself. “Dope!”