The Singing Tree by Shawn Goldberg

Random story 48.4.4, at Tulane Literary Reviewhere’s the link.

The fuck?

The girl and the man jump off the bridge. The Tree, a cover artist that doesn’t take requests. Their baby, America, a cyclops. America’s baby, Gadsden, don’t tread on me, weds his true love Cathay, China. All dead in the end but Gadsden and the faerie Tree. Grand finale, New Year’s and the Fourth rolled into one. Bravo! the heavenly host erupt; encore! they demand. Curtain call, Cathay dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Gadsden watching himself as a child in blue tuxedo and top hat tap dancing.

We are currently open for submissions, the magazine’s home page announces. Out now! it exults over its Fall 2016 issue: click the link and there’s nothing there. “The Singing Tree” is the last entry in the Spring 2015 issue, which appears to have been the grand finale for this publication. On the Contributors page Shawn Goldberg tells readers that he’s living in Madrid. He lists his email address: I’m going to drop him a line, see if his email is still working, find out if he’s still over there, ask him what the fuck about his story.

7 thoughts on “The Singing Tree by Shawn Goldberg

  1. It’s certainly an exuberant story, as if the magazine knew this was its last hurrah, plied with stylistic idiosyncrasies, touching in certain ways, grotesque in others. I couldn’t help but wonder why this amazing tree would concern itself so much with the doings of humans, although there are long stretches when we don’t really know what’s going on with the tree — maybe it’s canoodling with its fellow faerie folk, passing through the mystic portal into the teeming galactic void.


  2. xHi,
    I’m Shawn. I wrote this story. Sure is weird to get a random email from a guy I don’t know, asking about a story that I thought was lost on the internet, but it sure did cheer me. The Singing Tree was rewritten many times although the majority of the plot decisions came to me while messing around with hypnagogic exercises. When I was writing it, the most important thing to me was using elemental images/settings/frameworks. Also, I wanted it to be funny and absurd and have the logic of a dream.
    It should be noted that Cathay refers to Hart Crane’s Atlantis and his Romantic America.
    Rereading it now, I do believe the final image is taken from the end of Fellini’s 8 ½. I used to joke that I should write a sequel, where The Singing Tree is president and a super hero and he goes around fighting criminals and terrorists.
    This story was rejected by at least fifty small publications. I never met nor had any real interaction with those Tulane folks. After the fact, I always thought putting my email address in the contributor’s page was juvenile, but then I guess I wouldn’t be here writing this email. So I guess some silly things do work out.
    I still live in Madrid. I still write stories but I don’t write folk tales anymore.
    Check it out:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shawn, welcome. It’s a random email about a random story, selected for me via algorithmic sortilege in an attempt to circumvent intentionality both in what I read and in what I write. The algo, as well as my own juvenile email address, can be found in the “About” page. It’s illuminating that the riotous jingoism of the names and the ending emerged as hallucinogenic intertextual homage. Also that it’s written by someone who’s evidently a long-term expatriate: maybe absence makes the unconscious grow fonder, or more aware of the phantasmagoric excess. Did nostalgic surrealism presage or even usher in the Trump era? I’m sure he’d love to hire the Singing Tree to stage his parade.

      I don’t know Hart Crane’s work, but yes to Fellini. My avatar on my old blog was the mermaid creature decorating Zampanò’s wagon in La Strada. That movie too features music and spectacles and parades. I’ve got a dvd of around here someplace, and now I’m wanting to watch it again but I don’t have a player — I’ll see what I can come up with. Are you also a Buñuel enthusiast? At some point I thought that maybe your whole tale was a shared hallucination of the couple who jumped from the bridge on their final hypnogogic descent, so if not on the right track I was at the right switchyard. Speaking of which, the only time I was in Madrid was changing trains, as I recall heading from San Sebastián to Salamanca.

      A sequel seems a fine idea: pursue the extreme vision even unto madness, buahaha! I’ll go see what’s happening at your website/blog.


    2. Thinking about the influences of Crane and Fellini on this story, how much responsibility falls to the reader to detect the intertextual sources? I’m reminded of, when our daughter was little, we’d take her to a kid movie that had embedded in its script or visuals a second register of meaning tilted specifically toward the adults in the audience. Amid the raucous kid laughter there’d be a little undercurrent of adult-voiced chuckling at the in-jokes. The little kids didn’t mind, but they also didn’t get it. Sometimes I feel this way when reading lit’ry works, being not well-versed enough to get the allusions geared specifically toward an elite readership who with knowing smiles tacitly grant the author access to the Club. That doesn’t keep me from leaving little intertextual droppings in my own stuff, but I tend to go back while editing and make the references explicit. Not always though. There’s some hope that the elite reader will actually show up at the text and know the references implicitly, or else take the time to track them down. In publishing stories online it’s easier to use hyperlinks to explanatory endnotes or even directly to source materials. Does this take some of the magic out of the artistry? Probably. What you want is commentary, or other writers sampling snatches of your work in their own.

      What you don’t want to become is a cover band for other writers, especially one that takes requests. Still, how much do Fellini’s circus parades — a touch so distinctive it’s achieved adjectival status as Felliniesque — owe inspiration to earlier influences? It’s Carnevale, isn’t it, the ritualized Catholic spectacle, a festival of self-indulgence preceding and complementary to the austerity of Lent, culminating in the grand finale blowout of Mardi Gras? And I do wonder whether the convergence of military and church and aristocratic power that was Italian fascism — the era in which Fellini came of age — staged similarly Carnevalesque spectacles to enhance the sense of awe and mystique and fetishism in the crowds. Certainly Debord attributed the society of the spectacle to the influence of the Church, as evidenced by his opening quote from Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity:

      But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.

      I’ll point out here what might be obvious, that each of my posts in the present series, including this one, is intertextual.


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