Happy 25th Birthday – February 25, 2021
I am 33: relatively young. I still feel the luxury of time languidly sprawled before me, time to accumulate experience and accomplish work. But, should I have died nine years ago at 24, like Elijah, I would never have joined the military, started graduate school, or published my book. Twenty-four is not a large number, not enough time for a developing young artist like Elijah McClain. Today, February 25, would have been his 25th birthday.
Today I’ve been sad, but not alone. A cohort of myself and ninety-nine other artists led by the great playwright, Erik Ehn, constructed a memorial to Elijah: 1,000 plays, each only 25 words: a reminder that 25 is not enough either. To stop Elijah’s monument from becoming a product, it remains unlicensed. I do not know if our work will eventually find a recognized public home, but I am adding the document to my website. It also contains links to several songs contributors created. This process was a good thing. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those that mourn.”
Today is a birthday.
One kind of happy memorial (and a birthday is in its name a memorial) brings the dead back to life. In cases where the body doesn’t rise (any more than water flows back upstream), the living remains the way a river does – its identity in flowing. We, living, are the flow that testifies to a persevering principle that identifies Elijah or any one of us, that shares our witness as we salve the earth and mirror the sky, (cool the turning of the earth’s engine, voice awe at the infinite expansion of the sky), endless evacuation of noun for the sake of the elemental creative command to go, go create, to be born and never stop aborning.
Today is a birthday and birthing overtakes day, sweeps us in our common humanity to the angelic action of falling into origin.
We also see and feel each ending, particular ends. Going is a weeping as well as rejoicing. Water/river, between heaven and earth, is a paradox: aware of place while moving past place to disappearance. The song of it: Creation is oscillation between motion and location.
Here we are.
Here we go.
Happy birthday, Elijah.
By Erik Ehn
Ten 25 word plays celebrating the life of Elijah McClain:
A song rides on arid wind;
Pierces the walled gardens;
Sings in every ear;
Rises on an updraft.
Gazing below, this song smiles.
Rosebuds are blossoming.
Stage shakes (simulated earthquake)
Gradually, tremors diminished via series of elongated violin notes.
Chaos is reduced to melody (gentle rocking),
Then, abruptly, all falls silent.
A star grows skin:
brown skin for earth,
blue for sea.
From this skin bursts trees—
forest swings, wind sings,
although none met their star.
-Backdrop: Black holey canvas, like Lite-Brite catasterizing Elijah’s slight form.
-Through these windows, 1,000,000 watts pierce the theater.
-The light falters.
-Audience’s candles lit; rise.
“‘Martyr’ is too two-dimensional.
Elijah was an artist, a gift,
A book Aurora P.D. fed to flames.
It’s not safe to call the police: they steal.”
-A Cheetah’s maw embraces a kitten whose teeth clench a fly by the wings.
-They’re on a trapeze.
-A golden chariot labeled ‘Elijah’ tails beneath.
Dawn: Car driving beside highway (not on),
Shredding shrubbery, eating orange cones; otherwise, gentle (no harm).
Evening: It’s gone.
In its wake: a new lane.
-A neon speck becomes a beautiful child.
-He grows running like a gazelle, pulsing light with each footfall.
-He outdistances those who’ve run 100 years.
-Schoolchildren: conspiratorially whispering, yet overtly only about themselves.
-Elijah, alone, speaking another language.
-A year passes.
-Elijah, surrounded by friends, all speaking his imaginary language.
-Man hunts fly.
-Elijah catches/frees fly.
-Man hunts the weary.
-Man hunts Elijah.
-Elijah dissipates: 1,000,000 butterflies.
-Man hunts butterflies.
-Butterflies become fireflies.
By Nathan Dean Talamantez