“Ekphrasis of Cassandra’s Vow of Love.”
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
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.
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, and she wore an overall with stains of oil paint and watercolors--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 that's how I imagined the wardrobe for the scene that I wrote the next morning.
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 scene from her own perspective.
Sunshower [Lluvia con Sol] ©Cecilia Martinez-Gil
Excerpt from CHAPTER THREE - Words Writ on Wild Waters
Brook woke up three minutes before the 6:00 am alarm sounded, went to the kitchen to squeeze Oranges, brew coffee and cook two scrambled Eggs with Spinach leaves. These they served with a half of a Tomato with Olive oil, Salt, pepper, Oregano, and a toast with jam. They ate while listening to Sabrina Claudio’s About Time. Breathy voice, soothing.
Brook got dressed in blue jean overalls with a couple of colorful patches on the knees. They fastened the loose overalls with a 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 braided their long hair and tied it in a bun. They grabbed their messenger bag, identical to Liam’s. Brook tied an NYU purple hooded fleece jacket around their waist and walked swiftly toward Utica subway, tallying the beat of a song by Magaluna, “Couldn’t Say it Better,” singing out loud, “Midnight came again,/Welcome it’s a new day/Heard a fall of rain/You said you heard the same thing/Dreams so close we taste it/ Things feel like they could really be.”
Brook had an early class at the university, another in the early afternoon, and in between, they were to meet with their honors thesis mentor, leaving just a little time for a break before they would begin Monday’s evening shift at Océano. Chef Michael had added more nights: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, except Wednesday, May 22nd which was their graduation ceremony. Today would be their first new shift.
The NYU 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. 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 Cave.
The professor spoke from behind the lectern in a stirring voice, “These paintings were created by an artist thirty-five thousand years ago!” She explained how archeologists and rock art experts had studied the remains of skeletons of bears near the pictographs on the walls and had concluded these creations were part of vision quests undertaken by ancient shamans. On the screen, the panel of the horses stood out, as though the horses were galloping across the alley between the two rows of seats where about two dozen students interspersed, leaving vacant spaces in between, as if afraid to sit too close to one another.
Brook shook their head. In their four years at NYU, they had only become close to four people.
The first had been Nick, their first dorm-mate, a super tall and built football player from Baton Rouge, Louisiana—the sweetest guy Brook had ever met. Brook thought that they’d been matched to share the same room on campus due to similar taste in music (at the top Kendrick Lamar and Tupac), their love of obscure quotes from common movies; and fear of flying. They couldn’t find more affinities to explain the computer selection. Perhaps, their heights, though Nick doubled Brook’s physique. They’d become best buddies very soon and although Brook wasn’t so much into sports, they would attend Nick’s practices and games regularly and support him in all athletic events. Walking about campus with Nick empowered Brook and made them feel safe. “Trust me Mate, I know how it feels being constantly eye-balled at.” He’d said to them.
Then, it was Shakira, a Latinx Dance Major who Brook had met at one of the required sophomore courses in Linguistics, and they both hit it off, speaking and singing in Spanish together. She would ask Brook to critique her Yoruba dance routines while Brook would learn new moves and sing along her choices of Cuban tunes. Brook’s favorite was a YouTube video with the Orishas “Represent” which featured Heather Headley that they could sing by heart and they would sing it to their mom over the phone. Brook was drawn to the notions of the Orishas, those deities worshipped by people with African, Indigenous, and Spaniard heritage alike. Shakira would also share stories about her grandmother who was a curandera, who had healed lots of people. Brook was intrigued by these stories, which Shak would tell them as they rode the city and NY's boroughs aimlessly, “¡Sígueme, Azúquitar!” They’d take trains to shady restaurants to try ethnic foods from everywhere. Shakira and Brook would take all risks tasting everything, knowing that some meals would ensue stomach aches, burns of hot spicy food, or trigger sugar binges.
Later on, Brook met Sophie, on their second semester at NYU. She was a Milwaukee transplant recipient of multiple grants and scholarships whose major was Cultural Anthropology, and she was the dopest geek Brook had ever met. She dabbled as intern at Prometheus Books learning to edit creative nonfiction philosophical and scientific galleys. And Brook liked that she’d known about Whelan & Whelan Publishing before they mentioned Liam, their beau, to her. Brook would listen to Sophie rambling about philosophy until they’d fall asleep, which would irritate Sophie so, she would throw things at Brook until they’d wake up, giggling apologetically. ‘Too much info for my feeble brain Sophie! Pity me amiga!’ But Brook felt that Sophie was a soulmate from a previous life. They’d felt multiple déjà vu about things she’d say to them. And Sophie was the only one of Brook’s friends who understood math as easily as they. “Hey amiga! We weight the same! And Sophie would laugh, “You geeky Math Wiz!”
There was Jasper too, from who knows where in America and Japan, studying Political Science. Brook had met Jasper performing as Ocean Jade while bartending at The Lips Drag Queen Show Palace in Brooklyn. Brook recognized Jasper immediately from the NYU’s cafeteria. He would seat in the corners against the yellow wall. He was very clumsy, bumping into things and people as he walked with his tray still in a swagger. Once, he walked towards a table next to Brook’s; his huge headphones seating on his head like a topless hat; his long and straight black hair falling over his back. Jasper stripped over a backpack, stumbling in sequence until his hands slammed on Brook’s table with a loud slap. He’d said, 'My bad, Enbyone,' while winking complicitly.
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. 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 squeeze.’
Brook sketched while repeating to themself in their mind their mother’s words from the journal. They recited it surprised of their memorization:
Brook translated Cassandra’s words onto an image, 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 with 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 from “Wonder,” so Brook sang it in their mind, humming imperceptibly.
On Juneteenth I was scheduled as the first graduating reader at Antioch University, Los Angeles. I read this excerpt from Sunshower's [The Turn] included in Chapter Three, "Words Writ on Wild Waters." In the video you'll see me wearing a flowery two-piece suit because one of the themes in my manuscript is flowers. My husband ironed my Romantic white shirt while my daughter embraced me meditationally. Magaluna and Federico sang a song and played music on cue during my Zoom recitation--the trigger words were for the former, "singing out loud," and for the latter, "memorization." You'll see a metaphorical bow when I put a Top Hat. Maybe, because I am a performer, and a fashionista, but surely, because the four letters of my daughter's name, Maga, is the word in Spanish for Magician, and it's just a hopeful way to read into its magical pulse and not the something ugly that it means these days. Also, because Magicians' make magic tricks on "galeras de los magos" and chapter three is structured drawing to the notion of the Three Steps of a Magic Act, as conceived by author Christopher Priest in his novel The Prestige, and that Chris Nolan's film explains it via the superb acting of Michael Caine--its Three Steps, The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige.
Today, I exhale. Hope and Faith linger in the Air. Magic not always can be explained though acts of magic happen all the time, even in the darkest of the days. Even when we aren't fully aware. But be aware. Become magic and justice yourself.