______ As Myth
This project conceived by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, 2021-22 CERCL Artist in Residence and owner of Deep Ink, LLC, includes a community writing workshop centered on personal mythology (modeled after her forthcoming book Black Chameleon), an art-based project that interprets local mythologies into visual art, and a community exhibit highlighting student, community and professional artists at the Moody Center for the Arts.
Story by K. Ellie Mae
Art interpretation by Joshua Mouton
Indistinguishable they were, Verena and Cantemene. Sisters born together, two minutes apart on the thirty-first day of May. Verena first. And then Cantemene.
Together they received the blessings of the tribe, as they entered its realm. And together they learned the responsibilities, as was the custom.
For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, Verena and Cantemene embraced the vision of Onyesha. For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, they repeated the oration of Khateebi. For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, they traced the design laid out by Ajantha. For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, they reviewed the plan of execution developed by Nazmiyyah. For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, they replicated the structures by Maceria. For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, they endured the coaching sessions of Varnava. For four thousand three hundred eighty-three days, they responded to the critiques, admonishments, and alterations so precisely levied by Eudoxia.
Now, finally, it was day four thousand three hundred eighty-four, the first day of the thirteenth year in which Verena and Cantemene journeyed. On this day, each sister would perform the rituals they were so well acquainted with; for they had rehearsed them for four thousand three hundred eighty-three days. And in doing so, they would assume their duties to the tribe.
But on this day, unlike the other days, the sisters would lead the ritual one by one, as was the requirement. Verena first because she was older. And then Cantemene because she was born second.
Verena ascended the dais and spread her hands out to the crowd of witnesses, recalling the vision of Onyesha to their minds as she spoke passionate words. She embodied everything they had envisioned.
She reminded each of them of their own vows as she led a call-and-response rendition of Khateebi’s articulation. She said everything they longed to hear.
She brought to life the golden path across the stage, falling into union with Ajantha and the community before her. She followed the well-worn trails and the witnesses journeyed alongside her in reminiscence of their own four thousand three hundred eighty-fourth days.
Verena recited Nazmiyyah’s plan of execution from memory. But delivered it as though she had developed it herself. Full of passion and commitment and zeal. The witnesses cheered as she vowed to carry out the directives laid before her.
And then her body went to work, dramatizing assembly of the structures specified by Maceria. First the foundations. And then the cornerstones. Reenacting, as she went along, the training drills that she had endured over the four thousand three hundred eighty-three days. Careful to, on this day, weave in the tutoring provided by Varnava. Defenses up. Alert at full scale. Offensive strike right now. With bated breath, the crowd watched her claim victory over the ominous foe. Grateful that her power perforated the shadow of invisibility.
Then, finally, on this four thousand three hundred eighty-fourth day, spent, yet still poised, she centered her being while awaiting the pronouncement from Eudoxia. Eudoxia who would consider the offering laid before the crowd of witnesses to judge it worthy or not so.
Verena did all of these things. And Eudoxia proclaimed in her favor. And the people were moved. And they embraced her, pledging their wills and their time to her vision and articulation, her design and plan of action, her construction of the future and defensive plan, her approval. Because these were also the people’s vision and articulation, their design and plan of action, their construction of the future and defensive plan, their approval. So, the crowd called her blessed.
And Verena was led to her home that the people had built slowly over the previous four thousand three hundred eighty-three days. Brick after brick as she practiced the ritual to become one with them. And, finally, she entered the home from whence she would fulfil her duties.
Taxed, yet elated, Verena often peeked out of the window towards the other home whose construction started four thousand three hundred eighty-four days ago. Waiting and waiting and waiting for the arrival of her sister. Anxious, for they had never been more than two minutes apart. Understanding, as she recalled the length of her ritual. Certain, because they had done everything together.
But more and more and more time passed. An inordinate amount. And Cantemene did not arrive.
Finally, as the sun created pathways for the moon, Verena ventured out into the center of the village. Expecting to find it lively there, she was alarmed by the quiet. The stillness. The hover of mourning. No one in sight. Especially not Cantemene.
She ran to Eudoxia to inquire of her sister: What has become of Cantemene?
Eudoxia looked rightly at Verena. Aggrieved: Did you not know? she demanded.
Then, reappraising the balance between them, Eudoxia continued: Do you not know, she asked, what becomes of those who recall the vision of Onyesha without belief and speak the oration of Khateebi without conviction; who copy Ajantha’s design without appreciation and memorize Nazmiyyah’s plan without commitment; who recreate the structures of Maceria without attribution in their hearts and bask in the consultation of Varnava without respect; those who respond to critique without undergoing transformation? Do you not know what becomes of those who hollow the sacred with insincere voices, empty words, and half-hearted gestures?
Aghast, Verena replied: There is no word for such a thing. And even if there were, there is no such being in our midst. No one who would dare accept the blessings of the tribe and then forsake their responsibilities and then reject their duties. Not after four thousand three hundred eight-three days. Not on the four thousand three hundred eighty-fourth day.
Yet, there was one, Eudoxia declared with sad eyes. Just one. But she is no longer of us. For her perfunctory performance of that which is sacred has rendered her useless, unable to execute even the most menial of tasks. On this day, her deeds have been weighed. And our dear Cantemene, now, is just Cant.