Of Mongolian Throat Singing

In the innermost part of the stars above our heads, a nuclear fission reaction continually churns out various elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Gravity takes hold of these elements, and just like after the Big Bang, condenses them to create planets, and, ultimately, life. We humans are made of stardust. There are secrets of the universe that astronomers know, from the smallness of our world, how far things are in space-time, and to realize that when we look up into vast darkness or perfect blue sky, we’re seeing the past.


I walked past a pickup truck, and the smell of gasoline danced up my nostrils along with a memory of my brother. With his then sky blue eyes and white blonde hair, he asked for a ring of keys, blue jeans, walkie talkie, and a tall hat to be like his uncle. The petroleum mixed with a whiff of flat, sun-dried Pepsi cola, and tire raised dirt. James Taylor entered my ears.


You witness a most unusual phenomenon of a boy and a girl, both not yet toddlers, sitting head to head facing each other for hours on end. Their parents thought the two were connecting brain waves or some such nonsense, but they knew that their children were best friends from the start. The boy often engaged the girl in odd little adventures: equipped with a toy Jeep, they drove into the stars and through every time period they knew in their little heads, and with a dilapidated washing machine rusted to disuse in the backyard, they imagined a space ship and moonwalked into the extra-terrestrial. In the car, Lady Madonna danced through their ears while they made the sun-shade a super computer, typing long numerical codes on the polyester to signal ultimate destruction for far off worlds.


            It takes 8 minutes for sunlight to reach the Earth—if the sun exploded, which it will at some point, we wouldn’t know about it for 8 whole minutes.


The two children, siblings, seventeen months apart. They were inseparable. Nicholas and Annalisa, both intentionally eight letter names, became two names that would forever go together. Shortened, Nicholas became Nick, four letters; Annalisa, Anna. The children slept in the same room together, ate together, played together. Daylight never went on long enough.


Nicholas had always been there for his sister. He was the first born son; she, an accident. Although the Palmer family had not known that Nicholas would have a sibling, they were happy to have Annalisa in their family. The two children acted like twins once Annalisa was born. She, being six months early and weighing only two and a half pounds, almost died after being born. Her father frequently compared her to a Chipotle burrito considering she fit in his hand. Additional complications arose besides her weight. The baby girl was diagnosed with pneumonia a few days after her birth, and at the hospital, the doctors had direr news: a small hole punctured her heart. Fortunately, her body somehow healed itself, and she lived. Nicholas was also a miracle; his mother stands by the fact that she does not make babies well. He weighed around seven pounds, and part of his brain was compromised. After being in labor for three days, my mother gave birth. He breathed his first breath soundlessly. Nicholas John Palmer lived.


While sound waves cannot exist in space, light waves can be translated into sound waves. We can hear what the universe sounds like artificially, but we all live under its silent chorus.


It was Mongolian throat singing all the way to Arizona. The hardly melodic grunts supposedly treasured by the Tuvan inhabitants of the nomadic nation and Norwegian oregano gravy were two of the five things talked about in the car. In 120-degree heat going 90 miles an hour, hearing “music” resembling someone regurgitating their food while constipated is the last thing you want entering your ears. The passenger immediately behind the driver lost any of his sanity once the throat singing began—he loved this “song.” With a great heave of air, he mimicked the Tuvan master rather horribly while the rest of the passengers shoved fingers into their ears. When our auditory slapping reached its denouement, the backseat vocalist allowed there to be silence. This was my brother, Nicholas, at 21.


Throat singing aims to amplify the sounds of nature, adding to the symphony of life. As a folk tradition of nomads, the singing intermixes with the howling winds of the steppes, chimes of streaming water, and the staccato interludes of various wildlife. Take that out of context, reproduce it on a CD, and what comes out of plastic speakers in a midnight blue Nissan Altima is rather ridiculous.


Then again, he never harmonized with the chorus of the universe, silent though it is. Sure, his blue eyes matched the sky while mine blended into the midnight darkness, but he was something different. He unsurprisingly sang from his throat, embracing its two tone nature. A kind of duality permeates his being, and we, however connected, will always be opposites.


Is that it? Where’s the funny universe that your brother seems to inhabit? Where does this all connect to your details about how the world works, the stars, the sun exploding, etcetera?

Well, my brother does have the ability to create controlled explosions throughout the lives of his friends and family. The whole throat singing business began in September of 2013 when he received his mission call to Mongolia. I’d insert a Genghis Khan joke here, but I don’t do jokes. He arrived in Ulaanbaatar in December, and stayed there until October of 2015. Now, he’s back there again—he fell in love while speaking in tongues—and he will return with his fiancé on July 17, 2016. Mind you, her family herds sheep and other livestock in the Gobi Desert, a lucrative business for nomads. Now, we have a wedding to plan and prepare for…Mongolia broke the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.

Yes, before the Mongolia incident, you must know that he was fluent in Japanese. He has this insane ability to memorize languages, especially those of the Altaic variety. For instance, now he’s learning Arabic and Turkish for the hell of it, but he took four years of Japanese in high school, won several speech contests, took the AP Japanese test, got the highest score (5), and then passed the national Japanese Language Proficiency Test. He did this all without a bat of an eye. He doesn’t jive with the whims of the universe. And as he came into this world soundlessly, maybe he mastered the chorus. Perhaps, to contradict myself, his song is the song of the universe, and everything works out for him because he accepts it. He capitalizes on what life has given him—he doesn’t have to hope for the best; he always gets the best. To him, everything must work out, everything will be fine, he just has to shock the world and destroy some things, but he remains seemingly invincible.

And, that’s ok. From his 5 A.M. runs and cycling ventures he loves to invite me on to his adamant piano playing by ear (he can’t read music), he’s my best friend who just happens to be my brother. I don’t see my life without him begging me to play chess at 8 P.M. or flinging impersonations of Gollum into my room at 10 P.M. I don’t see it being as funny without him asking me to shoot aliens or binge watch Doctor Who with him at 12 A.M. or asking me about reality, if we really exist, what’s the difference between faith, belief, and fact at 6 A.M.

I write this because he has chosen another path than I. He’s stayed with our childhood religion and will progress in it by being married on July 30, 2016 in the Saint George temple. His fiancé speaks no English, and she has a long way to go before becoming a U.S. citizen. He has chosen marriage earlier than I ever would have expected, and I just hope he’s happy. All his randomness and our childish excursions together will evaporate into memory as soon as he kisses the bride. We can’t continue these antics. I’m losing a friend, but he’s gaining a lifelong partner who I hope to befriend. I want him to know I’ll miss him, but he’s secretly telling me to grow up, find my own love, and get on with adulthood. Nothing will ever be the same, and yet the sky will continue its crescendo into perfect morning blue and its diminuendo into blackness until the two-toned song stops.

Works Cited

Bennett, Jeffrey O. The Cosmic Perspective. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.


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