The Artist Birthday Series

Mark Strand

The young man to my left spoke, “Signore e Signori, benvenuti.” For an eighth of a nanosecond, I felt relieved. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so horrible after all. I could say “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome,” no problem. But before the hint of a word could leave my lips, he began speaking again, fast and furious, full of praise for Strand, comparisons of the works of today’s guest artist to the works of other great poetic masters in history, and…much, much more. Even if he had been speaking English, it still would have sounded like “omstyqwuèptoz.x,vnjf<,” to me. Poetry, is not my field. With a little work, I might be able to qualify as “plebian” someday. But that afternoon, I just sat listening to what this young man was blathering on about, trying desperately not only to understand it all, but to REMEMBER it all. He rambled on for what seemed like an eternity, before his vocal inflection alerted me to the fact that his little speech was coming to an end, and I was going to be expected to do something.

When his introduction was done, he nodded his thanks to the audience, and then turned to me, signaling that it was now my turn to regurgitate everything he just said, but in English. I brought the microphone up to my mouth, took a deep breath, and then…hanging there in time, with my mouth open and not saying anything, I drove straight through the country of Resignation and into the Alternative Dimension of Surrealism. This whole thing became absurdly funny to me now. Still holding onto it, I flipped the microphone over my right shoulder, tilted my head, leaned in towards the overly eloquent journalist, and whispered with a grin, “That was super. Now, could you say that again, but…shorter?”

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