:: Article

Chalk Pastoral

By Barrett White.

Above your head as you read this a chalk outline of an image emits. It is of a young woman trapped inside. She is throwing a book into a cornfield and screaming. Screaming into the same plot of land where the farmer and his wife came to bury their pet chimpanzee, who ate the crucifixes from the farmhouse walls like a furious embryo, tossing itself like a wet sack on things, making meals out of its rump sounds. And the farmer and his wife wept for days until they became exhausted and hungry and thirsty and their legs gave out and they fell, cradling one another, empathy bruising their lips, and little pieces of candy corn fell from their mouths uneaten and they frothed with a madness and they died from lack of sleep right there at the foot of the chimp grave where this chalk book fell, the one you’re thinking about. The woman is screaming because the book speaks: roses and affidavits. Above her panic and your thoughts are a group of strappadoed vigilantes and priests who have been represented in several oil paintings throughout the woman’s home. They are only present in her dream memory and cannot be named. Their faces have been replaced with boxing gloves on long accordion arms, breathing in and out and slapping one another with the musical whiff of a crematorium and/or lava fields. The woman found the book on the table where her grandmother would grind the bones for baking in the mortar of the child’s head. A calendar was kept documenting the mortar’s aging, its wear, and on that basis were replacements made. For there were meals to be made, the grandmother high off nettles and rabbit fur, squatting in the corner of the cabin over a pile of eggs and biting the hen’s neck and screaming. These eloquent tones mocked by her granddaughter over the table at the book which whispered in her ear what it did to her as she slept. She slaps it from the table and it strikes the grandmother’s head. The grandmother’s head dissolves and then restructures itself as an infant’s head after the book passes through it. The book rings like a bell when it hits the ground. The woman hikes her skirt up and pissed on its pages, hoping to dampen the lies to make them soft. The grandmother’s new head caterwauls hot pokers on their wallpaper, making shear marks for fun with a fine-spoken comb. The book foams beneath the granddaughter, spits up feathers. Its voice shakes the walls of the cabin, making the pine needles scrape the window panes in pain-pleasure screeching. AND WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED it reverbuls, AND WITH YOU OPEN, CUT AND PASTE. Above the chalk outline the words float stop motion, all Méliès, with a sick moon groaning nauseous in a bind, a single exclamation, O.

Ideas don’t make up this book, pages do. The pages are stuck together with the amber grip of urine. The woman having given birth several times to the different heads the grandmother would wear, to challenge the mundanity of living in a cabin in the woods. The vinyl ghost of Ansel Adams lies deflated in the distance, big as a Macy’s day parade character, obscuring the foothills. The grandmother whines and whines through her infant mouth hole. The woman afraid that the voice of dead photographers would sing. The woman becoming a girl and the girl becoming a woman. The woman never grandmother because she could not give birth to a living child. A brisket child, sizzled in her mind ream. The face meat is something that inherits complexion. It came from inside of her raw. The grandmother would grind powder to bleach, brine blood to rouge. The grandmother’s infant head becomes a chimpanzee head and tackles her granddaughter with a playful shove. The book hovers over their struggle, muttering SO FAR AWAY YEAH YEAH YEAH. The monkey face bites and gurgles over the woman’s lumped body. Her mascara runs. ‘I want to get away,’ she says. The grandmother pinches and picks at every wenis. The book rolls out scarf-length bookmarks of tongue. One licks the oil clean off a painting of a patron saint. Behind the oil is a corral of neoplasticine grids. Inside the grids are multiple IKEAs with multiple dissolving baby heads. Like wet sand their texture fills the grids with perfectly geometrical dandruff. The baby heads have crowns of thorns that don’t dissolve. One of the thorns pricks one of the books’ tongues and the book howls with an angry threat: WHEN YOU FALL ASLEEP TONIGHT. Little dribbles of inky blood fall from the hovering tome into the pot of soup on the kettle which the grandmother makes. The soup on the kettle turns from yellow to orange to silver to purple to silver to purple to red to red to orange to black to silver to orange to purple to silver to purple to green to black to purple to orange to silver to orange to purple to silver to orange to black to black to black to orange to silver to purple. Prepared with a pageant of corn shucked from the soft parts between toddler’s tongues and palettes. Peeled from the crackling dead skin: it is true that the book’s pages are more flesh than their bodies. The book spits up balloons which cling to the thatched roof of the cabin, a birthday in the dark season of terrible two, the two of them, the girl-woman and her mother’s mother, with a kaleidoscope of heads between them, and the knowledge that plagues them with an incessant screaming. EASIER FOR YOU TO BE the book says, and its voice is interrupted by more black liquid cascading down, more oil to sour the meal.

Through the mossy gums inside her vocal hole, the grandmother tells her grandchild to burn the book. ‘Inhale its smoke to know its eternal knowledge’ she says, her head an ocelot. The book is spinning in a corner angled on its spine. It makes sounds like NASCAR binges, huge engines echoing therein. The sounds muted by the drifts of chalk detritus settling in the corner of your thought process, of the room, of the tale inside it, this book inside of you. The strappadoed priests are taken down by technicians of your dream and replaced with body-mod suspension artists with subdermal implants of stars, flowers, halos, hearts. In her chimpanzee phase the grandmother rips her heart out, eating it. The heart is made of leather. She is erased as the book calls over her vanishing corpse to the girl-woman: LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE NOW. LOOK AT ALL THE PAIN YOU’VE CAUSED US. The woman who is a girl now sees the smoke rising on the somber hills, parades of conflagration creeping towards the forest. Towards their cabin, towards the cornfield, their farm, their pageant. She takes a poker from beside the fireplace and catches the hovering book on it, impaling the cover with a shriek. The book flaps its pages like the wings of a wounded bird. Holding the poker in her teeth the girl thinks how she cannot escape the book, how her only option is to destroy it. This is something that is obvious. She gathers wood, the thin and brittle twigs from the nearby trees mingling in the cold. The book complains ONLY I KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY PENETRATE UR MIND. She douses the unlit pyre in gasoline. The suspension artists split little fireballs down to ignite it. A breeze rattles the bones of the cornfield as Ansel Adams’ giant deflated body shifts on the mountain side, giving the new fire breath, life. The woman drives the poker deep into the breast of the fire, sending embers dancing. The book screams and screams OOOOOOOOOOOO. The smoke of the book is a clear plastic. The girl stands beside the flames, sucking in the clear through her nostrils with a crinkle. The plastic rolls itself up in her like a mimeograph machine. Her lungs are sharp-pointed stencils that gnaw the book’s emission. The tears in it give her a new understanding of language. You and her hear the sounds of the fire trucks at the same time. Your ears perk and shrivel. She is tranced, leaning to vomit in the raked pine needles on the cold hard earth. Several police cruisers off-roading jeer, flinging dirt clods that bruise her, running over the house and razing it into a pile of sticks. Their red and blue lights cast jewels on the forest, on the hills, on the cornfields, which are wilting, crying black. The corn is blanched by a sickly rot. The fire truck tears down the forest to save it, wood splintering beneath hard rubber tires. They blast the book’s pyre with hoses from every angle, the water white with purging. They put the girl in handcuffs and lead her away. Everything floating above you is smoldering. The suspension artists are picked off by snipers and left to hang. The parade of police cars and fire trucks drive off blasting sirens into the night. For a moment, the dead forest is quiet. Out of the embers, the book crawls out. OOOOOOOOOOOO, it says. WHAT HAPPENS IF I REFUSE TO END?

Barrett White is a writer, performance and video artist. His work has appeared in Metazen, New Wave Vomit and elsewhere.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, April 18th, 2013.