Here’s another new story by dg, just out in the Summer Fiction Issue of The Fiddlehead, the venerable Canadian literary magazine now edited by Mark Anthony Jarman. It’s an amazing issue that includes, besides dg’s “The Lost Language of Ng,” new stories by Clark Blaise, Elisabeth Harvor, Leon Rooke, Bill Gaston and Katherine Govier (Jarman, Rooke, Gaston and Blaise have all been published at NC—see the fiction contents page at right).
This year’s Summer Fiction Issue makes me feel guilty; it may be our best ever, our most vigourous, yet the issue came together so easily, all these fine stories seemed to gather, like a party of friends or family that happens without effort on the part of any organizer. So I have an uneasy feeling that I’m forgetting something or someone or that the egg salad will poison the kingdom; surely creation should be more difficult than this. —Mark Anthony Jarman
The Lost Language of Ng
By Douglas Glover
According to the Maya, their grandfathers, the Ng, refused to assimilate with later civilizations but rather retreated, after a period of decadence and decline, into the southern jungles whence they had emerged. They are rumoured to be living there still, a hermetic and retired existence, keeping the Secret Names in their hearts, playing their sacred ball game, and copulating with their women to inflate the world skin bladder and supply the cosmos with ambient energy, the source of all life.
The last known speaker of the language of the ancient race of Ng passed quietly in his bed at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles where he had been flown the week before for emergency surgery. The cause of death was listed as “massive organ failure.” He was ninety-two years old, according to estimates, though he himself claimed to be 148. He went by the name of Trqba, though he insisted this wasn’t his real name; it was “my name for the outlanders.” His real name, Trqba told researchers, was a secret, a secret so mysterious and terrible that were he to utter the name the world would end the instant his breath stopped on the last vowel of the last syllable.
The Ng are believed to have been a proto-Mayan people who emerged, somewhat mysteriously, from the jungles south of the Yucatan 1,000 years before the birth of Christ and established regional hegemony over the inhabitants of the dry central plains, impoverished tribes who lived by eating insects and grubbing for roots, given to war and venery but incompetent at both, according to Trqba (see C. V. Panofsky: “An Account of the Ng Creation Epic” Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1932). A carved stele excavated at the ancient Ng capital, long concealed beneath temple ruins, depicts the dramatic emergence of the Ng people, their great tattooed war god ______ stepping naked from behind a tree, brandishing a cucumber (or boomerang; listed as “unidentifiable” elsewhere) in his hand, his erect penis dripping blood (according to Trqba; however, according to Giambattista et al., 1953, possibly water, sweat, urine, semen, or “unidentified fluid”) on a row of diminutive, dolorous, and emaciated natives who are about to have their limbs severed (see Rich Farrell: “Ng Stele Recounts Imperial Conquest” National Geographic, 1951). The name of the Ng war god is lost because to utter even one of the 18 divine dipthongs would have meant the sudden and cataclysmic end of life on earth. But Trqba (see Trilby Hawthorn: “New Light on the Ng, a Jungle Romance” People, 2009) said that the Ng referred to him in conversation using conventional epithets such as Snake or My Girl’s Delight.
Soon after migrating out of the jungle, the Ng invented canals, roads, terraced agriculture, pyramids (prototypes of the stepped Mayan E type, aligned with the solstice and equinox), cannibalism, and the mass sacrifice of captured enemy maidens (also, poss. the wheel, the automobile, and an early computer-like device; see Von Daniken, 1964; Von Daniken believed the Ng were extra-terrestrials from the planet Cephhebox). They built immense cities with central plazas surrounded by the usual towering stone temples and played a peculiar version of the Meso-American ball game at the end of which the winners would be bludgeoned with gorgeously carved obsidian death mauls–the losers would become kings and nobles. Since no one wanted to win (especially in the Age of Decadence when the Ng empire went into precipitate decline–between the years 7 Narthex and 27 Px on the Ng calendar), in practice the Ng ball game went on forever. Players would grow feeble, die and be replaced by younger men who, in turn, would be replaced, and so on. (See Proctor: “The Final 16, Ritual Roots of American College Basketball” Harper’s, 2001.)
According to Trqba, the ancient Ng came to believe that the sacred ball game generated a spiritual current or life force (analogous to the Chinese concept of Li; see R.V. Hemlock: “The Ng Generator, Prehistoric Experiments in Conductivity” Popular Mechanics, 1955) which kept the world dome inflated (like a skin bladder or inflatable beach ball, a curiously foundational concept in the Ng metaphysics) and animated all living things. If the Ng heroes–oiled, naked, emaciated, arthritic, toothless, and decrepit–ever ceased their listless ebb and flow upon the court, the world would end catastrophically. (For the ancient Ng, it seems, time was equivalent to constant motion with no linear progression, something like treading water or jogging on the spot; see Larios: Changeless Change, The Ng Enigma of Time, Oxford University Press, 1999.) Though he claimed to be the last of the Ng, Trqba paradoxically seemed to believe that somewhere, deep in the jungle, on a rocky, weed-strewn court hidden by the over-arching green canopy, men and boys, lost tribal remnants or even spectral reanimates, still played the ancient game, the score forever tied at 0-0.
Love this. Wonderful to discover that so many friends are Ng experts. Who knew?
🙂 A little in joke. Glad you noticed. I forget how many people get walk-ons.
Yes, it’s impressive, but there was an important omission; i.e., Dorsel’s seminal article in The Journal of Irreproducible Results (http://www.jir.com/), in which she makes the case for the Ng ball game’s having been an important precursor of Quidditch, which as we all know has become quite popular in the past ten years.
It could be that the distasteful controversy surrounding the Quidditch hypothesis lead dg to omit that article from his work. Or perhaps he gets to it later. We’ll have to wait and see.
I am saturated with instant gratification and delight in these wait-for-the-rest-of-the-story-by-snail-mail treats that pop up every now and then on NC.
Well, that’s possible. On the other hand, dg has never been known to shrink from controversy…
I think that the “unidentifiable fluid” is made of the same intoxicating substance as the gism excreted from the head teats of the mugwumps. It’s just a hunch.
My team of attorneys will be contacting you soon. I was with the UN Center for Language & Culture Preservation in ’51. The article you cited was published in the journal, Punta Punta: Images & Symbols. The fluid leakng from the stele has since been definitvely proven to be diminutive natives dripping from the end of ….’s penis. Several other similar steles have since been found up river in the Colorado Desert basin. Also, I would never have published in National Geographic in the fifties since I was a strict vegetarian and Trotskyite. We can discuss a cash settlement or we can go straight to a jury trial. (Proctor might join me and we can make it a class action suit.)
OBoy! A class action suit! Count me in!
Dear Professor Farrell,
We have hard copy of the magazine issue. It is possible you have forgotten much of your career during this time due your well-known habit of ingesting large quantities of Ng herbal remedies (this is a problem with many Ng researchers apparently, and, sadly, well-documented).
It IS true, as you say, that several such steles have been discovered in the Colorado Desert basin just upriver. One was recently found in the basement of a housing project in Washington, DC.
Your lawsuit is deemed frivolous.
Chatter, Cheetum and Windy
Attorneys at Law (Acting for Mr. Glover)
Furthermore, your very strange theory that the fluid dripping from _____’s penis consists of diminutive natives is not proven and is cited only in some peripheral papers in unrecognized, non-peer-reviewed journals (see Dorsel). Are you still taking those herbal remedies?
Clearly these comments should be restructured into an extended epilogue of sorts … or footnotes, perhaps.
Yes, the story’s relationship with reality is, as we say, highly charged. I think maybe Spark Notes.
Wow. I just read this short story. This is hilarious and as a translator myself, I did enjoy the cracks at translation.
Now I need to translate it 🙂
The cracks at translation were meant with affection. 🙂 Translation is one of my baseline metaphors for human interaction. Glad you liked the story. dg
That is how I saw them!
I actually liked very much the whole book (Savage Love), the different stories for very different reasons.
I was told that your prose would probably represent quite a challenge for a translator and I’m beginning to understand why. I think I’ll give it a shot with NG.