how to make a dead baby float: on chuck palahniuk’s lullaby

Worse of all, the truth so horrible. Cruel. Cruel of me to make you look. Cruel of Chuck Palahniuk to bring it up. But you can’t help it. Its human. The truth. The incomprehensible fat ass of truth scuffing its way up the aisle. Roadkill for rubberneckers…”


by john brown


More details, the stories more apparent to me now. Sitting in a coffee shop in Southwest Portland. Again. A stones throw from here Chuck Palahniuk is probably doing the same. It use to be I’d rarely look up from my cup, my note pad, my paper, to look at anything other than the ass of the waitress. A nice gal who checks on me now and again with a smile. How much did I miss all those wasted moments? Now I sit, drifting off, with C.P.s latest novel “Lullaby” opened face down on my knee.

I’m seeing more details. The drugs must have worn off.

A guy like Chuck Palahniuk does not write just because he has to, he might not know it, he writes to learn. A new definition. A new idea , maybe. A new word, its root a spidering thread in fertile ground. The twisted fibers. Colorful bast. Pulling us down to a $300.00 Cogi sweater, suddenly unraveled, in a pile at our feet.

My heart aches for the family and friends of Chuck Palahniuk. It might be a long wait before they see anything that resembles themselves in one of his novels. At least let’s hope so. He is from Portland, you never know. Maybe it’s me I look for? Or at least my coffee shop, here at the bottom of Capital Highway. That would be enough. Maybe its ourselves we look for in a book. Maybe that’s what makes it good. Makes the words, like wine or garlic, or coffee — agree with us, or not.

Lullaby is on my knee again and I’m still being pulled along. Don’t get me wrong, Mr Palahniuk does not weave a story, he lays it down. A mosaic. We follow along with, looking at our feet. Letters hidden in the road, written backwards, to be recognized after we’ve rounded the bend. Y.I.E.L.D. we read on, then put on the brakes. The book on our knee for a minute, or two. We read on. He pulls the string.

In Lullaby, there are dead babies. There is magic. There is, sad violence. Strange as it is to read, there is noise pollution. There is both the dregs, and the hope of love. There is a kind of examination, (or maybe a test) the question of the difference between free will and what is predetermined. Either by that which is innate, or by that which is the product or consequence of our so called free will. It’s clear, if Chuck says so or not, the man has to write. Even about dead babies.

Why dead babies? Don’t be afraid. If you fear for anything, fear for your dreams. Not the ones you think your imagination could conjure. Not the product of an image you might think you’d be forced to look at. You’d be wrong anyway. Fear that the great train is now snuffing faster down the great hill. Despite your feverish shoveling, arms aching, sleeves a-smolder. Despite the great effort. The cost of the fuel. The flames will go no higher, ever again. Behind you a great waste. What the world, and finally, you after years of practice, have come to believe and recognize as your life. Behind you, all your worldly goods and the faces, the bodies, of those you love. Those you could have loved, flying out the windows. The snowy intervals in the wilderness, strewn with belongings, half truths of a half empty identity. Snap shots taped randomly to ordered panes . A wedding ring. A guitar. A good suit. A credenza made from a wood, a date and an origin that is known by men. A car with the passenger side window smashed. Is that blood? Worse of all, the truth so horrible. Cruel. Cruel of me to make you look. Cruel of Chuck Palahniuk to bring it up. But you can’t help it. It’s human. The truth. The incomprehensible fat ass of truth scuffing its way up the aisle. Roadkill for rubberneckers — you gotta look, there, behind us, on the downhill tracks of the great hill, bloodied and broken by your own singed and blackened hands; and all the world slows to look briefly into the dark and empty pools for signs of life, or confirmation of what was already guessed. Truth. Innate. Already known. Horrible. Dead babies. Your dreams. Your dreams. The tragedy flushing your face as the tinkling shards of hope fall away. Bye. Dreams. Your dreams, are just like babies when they die.

The book Lullaby is on the table now. Closed. On a napkin to protect it. Just in case of the slim chance that Mr. P will walk into my coffee house and I can get a little free will. Proof. And I notice when I look up and count the things that have changed. Count the stories to be written. Sift through the noise. I can pull out the sounds of a baby. A string of consonants and drooled on vowels recognizable only to a parent who could have at one time sang. A song? A lullaby?

My dead baby lives. Is alive again, and it sings.


Originally published:
Issue Twenty-Two
October 2002


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