“Whistle While You Work” opens inside a filthy cottage overrun with wildlife. Snow White presses a pointer finger to her blood red lips and chants:
Now you wash the dishesThe animals look around, wide eyed and confused. The sink and kitchen table stacked with precariously balanced dishes, clothes strewn across the living room floor, cobwebs, thick patina of dust—the Seven Dwarfs are real slobs. Three blue birds chirp a militaristic call to attention, then Snow White begins to sing, “Whistle while you work . . .” and the animals get busy, cleaning in a frenzy. Snow White has cast a spell on them. Even though Disney has given some of the animals opposable thumbs (a chipmunk winds a ball of spider-web string, raccoons scrub clothes) they prefer to use their mouths and asses. A deer licks dinner plates, and a squirrel dries them with its whirling tail. Snow White corrects, with a high pitched, “Oh! No no no no! Put them in the tub.” Stunned, the animals obey. The deer fills the tub by undulating its ass on the pump handle. Squirrels hula their fluffy rumps with zeal, like nothing could be more pleasurable than dusting. A deer and bunny attend to a chair whose backrest is a carving of a rough-hewn humanoid face, hole in the middle for the face’s open mouth. The bunny perches on the seat, facing the hole; the deer stands behind the chair, presses its ass to the back, and brushes the top with its tail. The bunny peeks through the hole, right into the deer’s asshole, then the deer pokes its tail though the hole with a very intense look on its face, in a gesture that simultaneously suggests fucking and fellatio. The bunny sits upright and excitedly wiggles its own pom-pommed derriere. Outside at the pond, a chipmunk scrubs a shirt on a turtle’s ribbed tummy. The turtle sits on the bank of the pond, partially submerged. The shirt extends into the water, between the turtle’s legs. As the chipmunk rubs the cloth up and down, the turtle throws its head back, clenches its eyes, gapes open its mouth, and rhythmically moves its bottoms legs up and down—a pose of such jouissance it suggests the chipmunk is jerking him off with the shirt. When the chipmunk tries to leave, the lascivious turtle latches onto the chipmunk’s tail with its massive jaw and snaps the chipmunk inside its shell. Both animals’ heads poke up from the turtle’s shell, they look at one another with a startle that quickly melts into dreamy bedroom eyes. “Whistle while you work” means make the most of your drudgery, and the animals have obeyed big time, reinventing domestic labor as bacchanal. Snow White emits high-pitched operatic hums and sighs, but she never whistles. Whistling, the great unutterable, comes from elsewhere, this condensed libidinal energy from which Snow White draws her power. She lackadaisically swishes her witch’s broom and sings, “whistle . . . whistle,” and transfixed animals writhe and scour.
You tidy up the room
You clean the fireplace
And I’ll use the broom
This piece is an excerpt from an essay/memoir, written for Susan Silton and the Crowing Hens, a women’s whistling troupe that performed at LAX Art in Los Angeles on May 14, 2010. Dodie Bellamy’s chapbook Barf Manifesto was named best book of 2009 under 30 pages by Time Out New York. Other books include Academonia, Pink Steam and The Letters of Mina Harker. Her book Cunt-Ups won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for poetry. She recently completed a 4-month stint as a guest blogger for SFMOMA’s Open Space blog.