The Final Journals of Dr Peter Lurneman

Editors’ note: After several months of debate we have decided to publish the succeeding text, a reproduction of the final field journals of Dr Peter Lurneman, ScD, former Professor of Investigative Plant Ecology, PhD, HonDSc (Oxon) FRS, in the hopes of laying to rest the controversy surrounding his discovery of the Hemiavi Pseudoschiopsis in the Chaco Boreal. Despite occasionally touching on matters personal rather than scientific, these journals, testament to a man of unfailing dedication to empirical observation, deserve a place in the annals of science.

Dr Lurneman read Natural Sciences at Oxford from 1974. His first research and his PhD were in dendrology, and he is best known for his work on fractal disseverance in the Quercus Copeyensis. After retiring in 2006, Lurneman undertook a series of private expeditions that developed his cryptobotanical hypotheses; the papers that followed are more sociological in scope than his earlier work, and address a variety of topics, including the cow-eating trees of Padrame, the Austras Koks and the vegetable lambs of Tartary. He is well known in the horticultural community for his attempts to correlate mythological accounts of flora in indigenous literatures with findings in the field, and for his occasionally elastic interpretation of professional ethics while on expedition.

Early in the following text Lurneman describes an unidentified bite — potentially a new species of Phasmatodea — that may have impaired the lucidity of his later observations. These are nonetheless included for their potential interest to scholars of entomology.



The alarbo likely does not exist, but what legend, however disfigured by time and telling, does not have a grain of truth to it? For the Ayoreo people the alarbo is the tree of origin, a tree that speaks, the tree of tongues. An organic, self-contained tower of Babel.

J. Wilbert correlates it with the abrexlá, a cousin of the bottle tree, or perhaps the quebracho blanco. According to Izoceño Guaraní legend, the quebracho blanco was the world tree that bridged the realms of earth and sky. Men would climb it, crossing from earth to sky, and return with honey and fruit, but women and children were not permitted to climb.


A jealous wife, fearful of what her husband might be getting up to in the realms of the sky, burnt it down while the men slept.



I am now several hours SW of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, well into the Kaa-Iya of the Gran Chaco National Park. I was dropped off on the Ruta Nacional, close to the Laguna Concepción, at around nine this morning, and thereafter made good progress into the wooded regions. As hoped, by making my way down from the highway I was able to avoid contact with the National Park Rangers.

When the Natural History Museum informed me that they had suspended their expedition out of concern for the remaining indigenous peoples, I knew that I would still be coming. Though it may be hard to justify my presence here, it would be worse, I believe, to yield to political pressure when given the possibility of expanding the boundaries of science. Each small step into the naked bush, recorded, observed and mapped, elongates the platform of scientific knowledge, contributing to a chassis from which the great minds of tomorrow will be able to peer, if only abstractly, far beyond the present limits of human perception.



I broke camp at first light, ate a substantial amount of porridge, oiled my machete, covered myself in insect repellent and then proceeded south all day. From the dampness still present in the ground it is clear that there has been heavy rainfall, but my jungle boots have proved exceptionally resilient.

Along my way I discovered a few peculiar bulbs, and took a libidinous delight in plucking them out of the ground and pushing them into my pockets. It gave me a flush of pleasure to be bent down over the dirt, coaxing them out. Have I been away from the field for too long?


Finding, at around four, a suitable area to spend the night, I strung up my hammock, fly-sheet and mosquito netting between two lapacho trees. In the last of the light I reread Metraux’s account of the Chiquitano creation myth:

The sky and the earth used to be in opposite places. The sky told the earth, “Why don’t we trade places? All these people leave their dung on me, and I can’t stand the smell.” The earth said “Okay, let’s change.” Since then the earth has been below, the sky above.

There is something about the legend that resonates with me. I took immense comfort in the thought of it, and found myself smiling all through supper – dehydrated curry and rice heated over my paraffin camp stove. Despite the brightness of the moon I fell asleep quickly, lulled by the rustling trees and the remnants of the day’s heat curling up from the ground.




Being alone here in the Chaco makes me feel whole in a way that I have not for a long time. The sun at its zenith spalls fauna in preparation for the ordering of my mind; at dusk night covers the world over again, teasing me towards tomorrow.

Taking my porridge this morning I ran the scents of the Sahara through the fingers of my mind, and it feels like only yesterday that I was waking there. Each expedition seems to begin exactly where the former left off, bracketing out all that has passed in the intervening years.


The same thing occurs when I enter a hotel, or an airport. As I pass through the rotating doors I also move through a portal in my mind, brushing away quotidian thought to reveal a well-known room just off the main chamber of my consciousness. The space within it carries its own peculiar chain of associations — habits, memories, frustrations and expectations that form an intricate network of experience entirely unconnected to my day-to-day life.


I gathered many specimens today. A species of mimosa castanoclada, or a variety of the species. Long, pink filaments infloresce around a small white sphere, with flecks of white at each stamen. A jatropha excisa sp, not yet in flower. Also several thorny quiabentia pflanzii sp.


The variety of fauna in the area is remarkable. It puts me in the mind of Henry Walter Bates, who collected thousands of new species of butterfly during his hourly walks around his residence in Brazil. Near dusk I began to observe bulnesia sarmientii, which are found only in the most arid portions of the Chaco. Fortunately I have enough water to last me several days.




Someone was walking around the encampment last night. I woke around midnight, hearing noise. At first I thought it was a monkey or puma, but upon sitting up I saw a human figure silhouetted against my mosquito netting. I was alarmed, possessing nothing with which to defend myself, and remained motionless until the figure receded. After some time I heard footsteps leading away from the encampment.

Nothing was missing this morning, but I remarked several indications of a foreign presence. A frightening experience, and one that makes me doubt the wisdom of venturing out alone. The fact that my presence may have been noticed is distressing – if the park authorities are alerted they will no doubt send a party after me. I must make my way farther inland.




The true folly of a solitary expedition lies in the wasted opportunities for specialists in other fields. I should have brought along an entomologist. The insect that bit me seemed to be a species of stick insect. At first I thought it was a thorn, but when I motioned to remove it two long wings unfolded from the carapace and the creature took flight, precluding further examination.

It bit deep into my lower calf, where there is now some swelling and discoloration. I doubt it was venomous, and I am in any case too far abroad to make turning back to Santa Cruz viable. Experienced a slight bout of dizziness, but I think this may be due to omitting lunch. If I feel any worse I will use the sat phone to call for help.




The bite has swelled slightly, but otherwise there are no adverse effects. I went for a small hike, but decided it was safer to stay close to last night’s camp. Collected a gnaphalium sp., musk scented, a delicate, diminutive plant. Also an anacyclus sp., leaves bipinnate and linear, scape elongated, with one flower. Near the campsite I foraged some fruit from a bromelia, which I recognised from Chiquitano legend.

I allowed myself the afternoon to rest and read. I can’t help but admire Metraux’s concision, his restraint in retelling the native stories:

Tawkxwax found an old mortar. He said to it, “Where are your owners?” The mortar ignored him, and started to sound “Tom tom tom.” The mortar was split in two. Tawkxwax sat on it and his testicles slipped into the rent. The mortar shut and pinched them. Tawkxwax couldn’t walk, and he asked himself, “What am I going to do? If I had an axe here I could break the mortar.” An axe fell from the sky and landed beside him. Tawkxwax split the mortar. In the place of his lost testicles he put the fruit of the caraguatá, or bromelia.

Metraux writes as dispassionately as if he were logging the rate at which a gastropod secretes pedal mucus. A consummate professional.




This evening observed the bite – it has swelled into two overlapping triangles. The shape reminds me of something. Appears jaundiced. A sloth moved slow and lonely into my line of vision as I examined the inflammation: Each line approx. 3.4 inches length, 0.4 width, 1.2 height. I am of course worried. I feel fine, but the swelling should have gone down by now. I am taking anti-histamines, but I regret not bringing antibiotics.

I have not come across a source of water for the past few days, and if I do not find one by tomorrow I will have to seriously consider turning back to Santa Cruz. In the meantime I have been supplementing my supplies with the iletsáx which, although not plentiful, does contain some water.


Returning to Santa Cruz is a serious risk. If someone were to realise that I’ve been travelling through the Kaa-Iya without a permit – and between the state of my clothes and the contents of my rucksack that would not be difficult – I would likely be ejected from the country. Perhaps I could attempt to reenter the Chaco from Paraguay, later in the year. But I doubt that I would have any more luck finding funding now than I did during my attempts to organise the present expedition. It might be years before I could return.




Today I walked southeast for twelve hours without stopping. I woke up and felt compelled to move, so I forced down several bowls of porridge, packed my kit and was away within half an hour of dawn. I moved without thinking, making my way through savannah after savannah of the tall grass, some of which grows taller than a man upon another man’s shoulders.

I sometimes feel that the whole of my life has been a slow process of withdrawal from society. From my boyhood I felt myself apart from the games of my peers, slightly displaced, and as I grew the feeling only intensified. The other boys would keep away from me, and I, in turn, would keep away from them. I luxuriated in solitary pursuits, in thought, reading and abstraction.

I left for university believing that I would find my place in the world, a realm where everyone lived solely within the bounds of their own mind, developing lines of thought that, while founded on theories, concepts and research from the outside world, took on a life of their own within each scholar’s interior. I was wrong. The pettiness of scholarly completion, the incessant games of inclusion and exclusion, only drove me farther into myself.


In those days the outside world grew hazy. I would find myself sitting in the library, or lying in my bed, without any awareness of the motions that took me from one place to another. I lived entirely in my head, spending whole days accumulating and organising information, collating and weaving separate pieces together, attempting to create new wholes.


Occasionally, I would emerge from my thoughts and find myself lost in the middle of a road. My mind would recoil, and I would stare blankly at the names of shops and the shapes of buildings and have no idea what to do next. Gradually, the need to act would realise itself, and I would accost some poor passer-by for directions; they would look upon me with polite bemusement and direct me to my destination, invariably only a stone’s throw away. Upon arrival a patina of familiarity would smother everything, and I would descend again into my reflections.


I had to grapple with myself for long hours before I could express my ideas in the words of academia. I hated the formality of scientific language, the gaps in its vocabulary, the missing resonances that were only too apparent in my own mind.


If it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of my wife, I don’t believe I would have gone on publishing. I can still see her, shaking her head and pulling the metal clip of her fountain pen back with her teeth, working her way through my journals, struggling to pull my words into shape. So concrete, so capable.


Sometime after midday the terrain began its transition from savannah into thorn forest. The larger thorns can grow over four feet in length, and though I continued my progress inland I was considerably slowed. An hour before dusk I made out a string of mistral trees in the distance, which are unusual for the terrain. As I suspected, their presence indicated water. I’ve set up camp in a copse, close to a stream.

Despite the length of my march I feel remarkably clear-headed. My legs ache, and I know that they will be worse tomorrow, but if ever I were to find the alarbo it would be here, deep in a territory that is rarely explored even by the local people. I feel like a moment in history, suddenly suggesting itself to a place hitherto free of the landmarks of time.




My entire body aches. I lie in my hammock between two stout algarrobo at the south end of a semi-circle of mistrals, where the contained green of the leaves is of an intensity I have never before experienced. A sensation of deep repose dapples the ground within the grove, which is free of thorny shrubs, almost as if the location had been cleared in anticipation of my arrival. Louder noises occasionally pierce the sustained muttering of insects and birds: the howl of a monkey, low but vibrant with urgency; the grinding of the agouti, cracking into its supper.

On my first expedition, in Amazonia, I mistakenly set up my hammock between two triplaris gardneriana, and in the middle of the night I was attacked by ants. My guides burst into laughter as I rolled along the forest floor, attempting to remove the heads affixed to my body at the mandible. They told me that I had chosen to sleep in the novice’s tree, and almost wept with the pleasure they took at our reversed circumstances — the rich white expert, rolling in pain at the feet of three local men.


It was then that I began my research into local accounts of flora and fauna. I realised that a wealth of scientific knowledge had been sequestered away in the catalogues of myth and legend. There was a story for every plant or animal, and, once I had internalised them, these tales lit up the landscape with significance.


As I gaze from my hammock into the grove, the mistrals seem to be glowing. In days gone by, the Guaraní say, these trees could walk. They could be driven along by people shouting or making a noise to frighten them. They would hop and fly like grasshoppers, until one day the raven decided to fasten them to the ground. And then the trees lost their power, which had once been so useful to men.


Acacia falcata — Sabah, Malaysia: growth rate 1.2 inches/day. Bambusa Vulgaris —Burma: growth rate up to 3 ft/day. Both greatly overshadowed by the tree I witnessed early this morning, just under the waters of the stream beside my encampment. A v v exciting discovery. Could distinguish the trunk’s growth w/naked eye. Rate tbd, returned to camp only for equipment.




Am astounded by this finding. In the course of my life I have met several times with ambiguities in already recorded species, but I have never observed anything akin to this. The tree seems to be a species of quebracho, sprouting out of the centre of the stream’s meander. The tree has, since yesterday, breached the surface of the water and branched. I intend to ascertain how far this finding corresponds with the authorised generic characters of the quebracho, and how far it may be necessary to remodel these characters in accordance. Can barely permit myself the time to write this down.




Yesterday I spent many long hours by the river in the full heat of the day, recording the tree’s rate of growth, taking clippings and making sketches. When I returned to camp I was overcome by a spell of dizziness, which I believe to be a symptom of heatstroke. I am badly burnt, and have neglected to bring an adequate supply of sun lotion.

This morning I searched around the camp for something with which to shield myself from the sun. I collected several large palm leaves, and attempted to use mud from the riverbanks to paste them onto my reddened face.


Realising it would be much easier to simply coat myself in the mud, I stripped down and began rolling in it, but I was suddenly seized by a sensation of guilt. I felt as if I was being observed, and shame washed over me. I knew that I was, of course, entirely alone, and after some time I continued, laughing. I feel much better this evening, both in body and in spirit.




As I was working this afternoon, a small, light blue bird, not unlike a kingfisher, fell dead into the stream a few feet away from the river-tree. I waded out into the stream and, as I watched, something sprouted out of the stomach of the fallen animal. Over the course of the day the sprout began to develop into a small tree, displaying similar features to the hardwood just upstream. An entirely incredible occurrence. I wish that I had the means to film this.

I have had a severe cramp in my left hand all day, but, puzzlingly, as I write this it seems to have resolved itself. My calf is still swollen and has begun to smell faintly of rotting oranges, but the area around the bite seems to be hardening. I think the mud may be helping.




Someone came into the grove late last night. Pre-occupied by my findings I was not yet asleep at midnight, when I began to hear noises. From my hammock I noticed a solitary figure moving about amongst the mistrals; I suspected that it might be the same man that I had noticed several days ago, following me. I crept out of my hammock and moved slowly out through the trees and into the bush before rounding back on him from behind. He was hunched over my rucksack, dark and distracted and fiddling with my things. Even from several feet away I could tell that he was the same man as before. I was sure that if I let him leave the grove he would alert the park authorities. Luckily I had been sleeping with my machete.

It took eleven strokes to remove the head from the body, but he did not put up much of a struggle. It was almost as if he were leaning into the blade of the knife, pushing the nape of his neck upward into each blow. Afterward, I cleaned the machete and covered the body with fallen mistral leaves.




The sudden onset of light, the sound of the water’s movement, the intervals between insects on my skin — all of these felt simultaneously exaggerated and flattened this morning. There is an unusual constriction in my chest, and a numbness overlaying my thoughts. I feel a profound lack, and I attribute it everywhere. It distracts me from even the most prosaic considerations, weighing the mind down and divorcing thought from thinker. Though I spent several hours by the stream I was only able to make a few cursory notations. So much detail has been lost, even in one day.




Three more trees have sprouted since my last entry. The five of them are in a quincunxial arrangement, describing a symmetrical X at the bend of the river. The central tree and the two on the inside of the meander have grown rapidly: the first has had a comfortable radiation in its growth and a due expansion of its branches, and the second and third have also branched, although they remain inwardly bare. These three overshadow the outer two trees, which remain under the surface of the water.

I exult on the bank of the river, watching the trees. The arundinaceous stemmed Flagellaria abounds, and the day is like a bottomless jar of fresh water, quenching a thirst that I have carried within me since my earliest youth. I barely feel the heat, I do not get hungry and I find myself laughing, occasionally, out of the simple pleasure of being.




My moods have been swinging wildly. Today I spent the entire day immobile in my hammock, transfixed by recollections of the past. Fragments of my memory moved parallactically amongst themselves – the image of an uncle mussing autumn leaves into my hair in the garden outside my family home, telling me everything would be alright, oblivious to my fury at being treated like a child; a girl chasing me around college, trying to kiss me with a cheap lipstick that made my lips burn and swell; a funeral, where I lean over a casket and recognise a face within, but as I look the face alters, the features flickering in an electrostatic interchange of sex, nose length, age, taking the shape of everyone I have ever known.

My supplies run low, but I find myself unconcerned. Instead, I recall seeing my wife for the first time, how I looked at her spots and thought that she resembled a long, thin sapling covered with aphids. She was a serious, efficient woman, and we fell in love quickly. Several years after we married a small bulbous mound appeared just to the left of her nose.


She was distraught, but I found it oddly attractive, and told her so. It grew. For a while I called it her beauty spot, and I would kiss it while we made love, treating it like a third nipple.


Another appeared, slightly below her right temple, and then another on the ridge of her forehead, pushing slowly up, half-covered by her hairline. They were all so slight and so touching when they first arrived, but they grew and grew, and when they reached maturity they sprouted hairs. I didn’t mind.


When she died I was working, looking through a microscope at the long fibrous hairs on the bark of an ericaceae. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. The news of her death shocked me; I let the phone drop from my hand and sank down into the seat by my desk. I struggled to breathe. After some time I looked into the microscope again, and it was as if she were still alive, as if nothing had happened. The ericaceae was still so intensely beautiful.


Each time I go out into the field I experience a reprieve from my grief. When I put my face to the window in the airplane, things are as they should be.



I am surprised at where my thoughts have led me today, and slightly disturbed. I do not understand how or why my memories are intruding upon my work, especially at such a critical juncture.




I felt much better this morning, but still somewhat disoriented. It is as if my perceptions are overdetermined. Each of my senses is greatly intensified: I am seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting and thinking twice, maybe three times as much as usual. A psychological hyperplasia. The amount that I perceive has increased radically, but it all must fit within the same, bounded window of consciousness. It is dizzying.

Nevertheless, I made my way down to the bank of the river and spent all day there in observation. I watched for another specimen of the bird in the hope of identifying the species. I stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing, letting the foreground divide in two, leaving the background hazy and occupying my eyes with a nothing in middle space, waiting for motion. An hour after I arrived I caught the first sign of movement: a vulture, flying high overhead, wings rigid, the telltale white feathers fanning out from the tips, the body rocking left and right, rolling slightly in the current. I kept waiting.


After some time I saw one of the birds alight on a branch of the central tree. Like a woodpecker it made a hollow in the trunk, and nestled inside. By the time I had traversed the river the bird had departed, but I found an egg within the small hole that the bird had made. The tree’s branch had already begun to grow around it, and I worried that the egg would be crushed. I considered removing it, but it was too deeply ensconced to move without destroying it. The membrane of the shell was very thin, like mucus, and a light teal. It was still intact when I left the river at dusk.




Another intruder in the grove last night. I awoke quickly and did not lose any time making my way out into the trees. Sure enough, upon rounding back I surprised a man hunched over and fiddling with my rucksack. He looked familiar — almost identical to the man of the other night.

Again it took eleven strokes to remove his head from the body, and again the man did not struggle. He slumped down into the ground and let me do it. It was almost as if he were leaning into the blade of the knife, presenting the nape of his neck to the blade. Afterward, I covered the body with some fallen mistral leaves. I was too tired to dig.




As I approached the banks of the river this afternoon the sound of its ripples sparked a bar of oblivion in my mind. For a minute I was entirely free of myself. For one deep, extended moment, I could perceive all the accumulated knowledge of mankind, and yet this act of perception only occupied a tiny morsel of my attention, the amount that one devotes to making a cup of tea while listening to the radio.

The heat pushed me back into the day; I dipped my hand into the water to wet my neck and made a few more sketches. The five trees have all pushed above the surface of the water. Their formation is utterly transfixing.


As I write this, the far reaches of the night sky seem to be filled with minute, glowing words. A phosphenic apparition, I think. But it fills me with foreboding.




This morning I cut away a budding flower from the lower branches of the central tree. I made a transverse section across the lobes of the corolla in the bud to investigate the mode of aestivation — there were, however, no visible stamens. The calyx was deformed and filled with sap. At first I thought the albumen was rotten, but then I realised that what I was looking at was an embryonic membrane.

This flower is, in fact, an egg. I believe it to be that which I saw laid in the branches the other day, symbiotically adapted by the tree. The ovum is somehow being fed by the tree’s sap, and I also discovered a seed in the region of the fetal abdomen, which I suspect may belong to the tree itself. I was regrettably forced to halt my examination early as I have been having difficulty with my eyes. My vision has been slightly blurry for days, as if each and every moment was that which follows being shaken out of sleep.


I remember Eileen shaking me awake not long before she died. She looked healthier than usual, even lucid. It was three, maybe four in the morning, and she had not yet slept. She took my hand and led me to the kitchen, where she had finally caught the last of the mice; they were arranged in a row, each of their heads neatly removed. She acted like a cat presenting its master with a gift.




The blurring has intensified — there are auratic pulsings of light around all things. Several hours after midday I observed some kind of parhelion, an enormous halo around the sun, at approximately 20° to each side. There were two more halos at other points, not dissimilar to the Vädersolstavlan recorded by Urban the Painter: three intersecting halos, with the quincunx of river trees framing them. A sublime sight.




I have run out of supplies but I do not worry. I have begun collecting the young shoots of palms and ferns (which are succulent, with their hairs removed), the fruit of the pandanus and of the bromeliad, and slugs and snails, which are readily found in small hollows. Mostly, though, I eat the dorado that abound in the river. This way I can combine my observation with the more banal task of providing for myself. I am thinking of my wife with increasing frequency.




The way I felt today, down by the trees, was like being in love. It reminded me of being a young man, of the first months I spent living with Eileen. I would come back from teaching and we would lie together quietly for hours, saying nothing, both content, getting up only to eat.

I feel something similar as I wade out into the stream, waiting for a bird to blossom. It is as if I am staring into the eyes of my young beloved, her arms around me in a close, post-coital embrace, the two of us as near to one another as possible, and yet each carried away into a private realm of personal satisfaction. The trees, I feel, are mine. They are mine and I am theirs, and love, the infinite gravity of each passing moment, ties us together, makes us one.


I feel that the continuing distortion of my senses — the blurring vision, auditory lapses, and the smell and taste of rubber — is part of some negentropic approach to clarity. Words have begun to take on a reality of their own. I can make them out, everywhere, even when my senses fail me. When I look at the trees, in the blurred interstices of branchings and blossomings I can read detail, as if off of a page. Impossible to describe. I do not see, but I know the words for what I would see, if I could.




It rains. The rain is a man who has a fringed poncho in which he wraps himself when it rains. He rides about on a mule, his head entirely covered by his poncho, the fringes of which are the rain. When he lifts his poncho to see the way his eyes flash lightning. The thunder is the roll of his drum. He never stops travelling and wherever he is there is rain. Upon his departure from a place the rain ceases. I know that the rain especially dislikes the quebracho tree. But he dares not strike this tree lest his testicles be cut by its fall. His wife alone is entrusted with the destruction of these trees.




As I attempted to study the trees this morning, my reflection distracted me. At first I did not recognise the haggard image constantly being broken and reformed in the current. My body has become brown with sun and mud, my beard long and my pubic hair an unnatural white.

I stretched out my limbs in a Vitruvian stance and studied the central decussation of my body, my pensile garden of Babylon, and I danced, slowly, as I imagine a belly-dancer might. The sight of my own gyrations filled me with an indescribable sensation. This is me intuiting, I thought as I moved. This is my intuition of myself.


As I danced, I saw in my peripheral vision a bird exploding from one of the tree’s blossoms.




Almost every night, now, a man comes. They are all identical. I find each one huddled and fiddling over my rucksack, and as I approach he turns and looks up at me and grins with the night and then leans into my machete. I have lined them up, one at the foot of each mistral. They feel friendly to me; we are like a family. And so I try to keep them clean and proper.




Woke up this morning paralysed. For several hours I could not move. At the limits of my vision space seemed to coil inwards on itself, a concentric whorl pulling towards the centre of my vision, whilst simultaneously flattening out into a deadened, immaterial negativity.

The different components of my mind are pulling apart. I can feel the sinews connecting thought to feeling to action snapping, one by one. I have long bouts where I cannot think in words, my mind weighed down by shades of emotion that I have never before experienced, subtleties that lack linguistic referent.


My greatest fear is this: that I won’t be able to get them out. Won’t be able to get what I am experiencing and observing out of my head and onto the page, where it can be real. That it’ll remain stuck in my head, and swell and swell, and kill me, like a tumour.




I can use the words, now. I had to work through two notebooks before I could move through the world again. Or rather it is the world that moves around me, at the beck and call of my pen. The trick is to continue writing as I go, which is easy enough as long as I keep my eyes on the page; a peripheral view of the world is more than enough. My erstwhile paralysis fades in narration.

I took my journal to the banks of the river, wanting to show it the quincunx, and found at the top of the central tree a new blue blossom, about the size of a human head. I know that I must gather a sample of the flower before I can hope to recover my senses. I feel an irresistible craving for it.


I tried to write the action into the journal, but it did not react. It acted as if nothing was there. I pointed to the blue flower, wrote it, but the page remained stubbornly turned away from the river, facing me, shaking its head, and as it shook a newborn bird burst forth from a blossom on the tree and took to flight. I fell over in shock; the book fell with me but would not turn back to look at the petals falling faintly down upon us.




I have been writing myself down to the river every day, struggling for the flower. As I collocate the nouns, verbs, articles and adjectives of a sentence, I feel my body collocating the objects in the world with which I am concerned. When I write ‘eat’, I feel my arms already reaching for the nearest available noun, and when my eyes alight on something my pen does too, and as I scratch down the word my body collocates the object.

But I have been unable to find the syntax that will allow me to pluck the large blue flower. Words fail me. I cannot find the right noun, the associated adjectives, even the correct verb that would allow me to approach it.


The writings of the day, the writings of action, I destroy systematically, as I come to the end of each page. I am uncertain how I do it. I do not write their destruction, and perhaps because I do not write I cannot remember.


Perhaps I close my eyes and tear the paper down the middle, then again down the middle of the two strips, and then spit into my hand and roll each of the remaining quarters into small balls, which I consume. Perhaps I bury them just underneath the surface of the soil, offering a portion of each page to one of the headless men. Perhaps I take a match and illuminate the page, grasping the top and watching the flames climb up the paper before allowing the burning fragments to be carried off in the wind. Perhaps the pages destroy themselves.




Every act of writing, now, is suffused with physical desire for the blue flower. Attempting to narrate my way towards it never succeeds, only causes me to burn with an increased ardour. Occasionally I wonder if it is not desire itself that allows me to move the pen. Eileen and my mother mingle in my daydreams. As I put things down on paper, I feel myself inside the both of them, like a baby.




I begin to feel a celestial exhaustion. Accompanying it is a sense of ripening, of something germinating in the long stultified seed of my soul. My heart lustres and time prickles through me.

The days flash past now, without my having any sense of their temporal motion. I can no longer be sure of how long I’ve been out here. Writing these few sentences is the longest moment I have experienced in years, each second is dragged out, stretched, limited by the muscles of my fingers and wrist.


I do not have much time left before I succumb to timelessness. I must find a way to acquire the flower. All of my attempts to write my way towards it have failed. I am at a loss.




This morning I remembered that Tawkxwax could walk under water. Once he made a very long journey, entirely under the sea. He got tired and died. But before dying he threw off his skin, skull and bones, took another body and then he lived again. I took myself to the river and wrote myself under it.

As I dove I noticed that the central tree was entirely hollow, supported by the others through a network of creeping rootstalks. I broke apart the bark at its base and was able to squeeze my way up to the crown of the tree. Once there I pushed my way through the rhytidome and easily took hold of the flower, which I bit into. Inside I discovered an extremely large ovulum. I will eat it soft-boiled in the morning.




This will be my last entry. I awoke and ate and understood. I know the true nature of the quincunx, of the birds, the stick-insect, the alarbo. And I know what I must do next. I will be passing through the quincunx, I will be writing myself from the realm of the earth into the realm of the sky.

This page is the first step towards proper ontogeny. The explicit and the implicit will change place, the riddle of the present shall unblossom and then reopen radically, piercing far beyond the circumference of any human tense. Each facet of my current perception will fall away from my consciousness like fungi, sentences loosed from a lip, and I will be purged of words, a consummate intelligence of emotion, freed of the Procrustean beds of space and time.


I will cover the alarbo’s bark in the unceasing hieroglyphic of my semen, the trees five floating styles to my wandering stamen, and through the act of pollination I will fathom the fathomless. I will speak as a tree of tongues, the weather occasioning my only fricatives and the shape of my ideas pulsing with the sap of stars, expanding eternally and forever constellate.


Outside the wild sultry heavens are heaving. Within me I feel involution and dehiscence, striking together in a single, solitary chord.


The preceding text was first printed in Seed Science Research, Vol II, October 2012, pp. 18-35, Copyright © The Estate of Dr. Peter Lurneman, and is reprinted here with permission.

This story was shortlisted for The White Review Short Story Prize 2013.


is Review 31's fiction reviews editor. He was shortlisted for the White Review Short Story Prize 2013



October 2013

The Good Soldier

Jess Cotton


October 2013

Two hundred names are inscribed in a totemic list that opens Alice Oswald’s Memorial. The deaths of the Greek heroes,...


February 2013

Social Contract

Les Kay


February 2013

Formally, I and the undersigned— What? Use, like Mama said, your imagination if you still have one where scripts...


Issue No. 13


Holly Pester


Issue No. 13

It’s Saturday and two men arrive at the door in the uniform. Thames Water. We’re checking the whole street,...


Get our newsletter


* indicates required