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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The Rest Is Noise

Virginia Woolf describes the eclipse of 1927:

"At the back of us were great blue spaces in the cloud. But now the colour was going out. The clouds were turning pale; a reddish black colour. Down in the valley it was an extraordinary scrumble of red & black; there was the one light burning; all was cloud down there, & very beautiful, so delicately tinted. The 24 seconds were passing. Then one looked back again at the blue: & rapidly, very very quickly, all the colours faded; it became darker & darker as at the beginning of a violent storm; the light sank & sank; we kept saying this is the shadow; & we thought now it is over — this is the shadow when suddenly the light went out. We had fallen. It was extinct. There was no colour. The earth was dead. That was the astonishing moment: & the next when as if a ball had rebounded, the cloud took colour on itself again, only a spooky aetherial colour & so the light came back. I had very strongly the feeling as the light went out of some vast obeisance; something kneeling down, & low & suddenly raised up, when the colours came. They came back astonishingly lightly & quickly & beautifully in the valley & over the hills — at first with a miraculous glittering & aetheriality, later normally almost, but with a great sense of relief. The colour for some moments was of the most lovely kind — fresh, various — here blue, & there brown: all new colours, as if washed over & repainted. It was like recovery. We had been much worse than we had expected. We had seen the world dead. That was within the power of nature.... Then — it was all over till 1999."

            — from the diary of Virginia Woolf, June 30, 1927

Saturday, April 06, 2024


A very short story by my friend Steve Vermillion:

Leaving my home one morning I discovered a note taped to the outside of my front door. It read, "Please do something about your dog! The dog's barking each night is keeping me awake. I need my sleep!"
After reading his note, I thought to myself, "What jerk." I then walked back into my house and wrote my own note, tearing his down. My note stated that I did not have a dog, that he was mistaken, and at the moment, in an unrestrained impulse, via in an insult... "If you have anything on your mind it can't possibly be anything more substantial than a hat, also, please take into consideration that the barking which you claim is disturbing your sleep, may likely be coming from your wife."
A couple of days later, I found another note taped to my front door, stating, "There's no need for you to be hostile and sarcastic with me. Your note is mean spirited and beyond insulting. Let's bury the hatchet. I merely made a simple request. If I am wrong, then please accept my apology. All I was asking is for some peace and quiet if it is your dog barking at night. Sorry if you felt insulted...Your well meaning and neighborly friend"
I discovered his note on my door once again. Later that night, I gave Rex some treats. He jumped up on the bed with me as he always did. I petted him and said, "Good dog. That's my boy. Who's daddy's best boy?" while, as I scratched his tummy as he howled. with delight.

Steve Vermillion is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. He has had many works of short fiction published in both online and print magazines.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Phosphates, a short story by Hob Broun

CONLAN BOUNCED IN THE Ford and his fresh cigarette rolled under the pedals. He tried to stamp out the coal and lurched. How could the road be so muddy and still bounce him? Conlan was no scientist, that he’d grant. Breath plumed out of his mouth, made a milky blue patch on the windshield. His tongue was dry. It wanted to taste raspberry.

“Mutual trust,” Mr. Tunbridge said every September. “That’s what makes the stars come out.”

And then he gave Conlan something in advance.

“MULLED cider, cocoa, herb teas,” the brother said in answer to the question of how he could keep his soda fountain open through the winter.

Conlan looked up and down the street, which had only two summers ago been paved. “Herb teas,” he repeated. “You’re dreaming.”

“People need a wholesome place to come,” the brother said. “After the sleigh ride, after the skaters’ party. And the community sing. That’s every week.”

“You’re a bloody public servant now?” Conlan spat with finesse. “You’ll put bloody marshmallows in the cocoa, and no extra charge.”

The brother was waiting for the Syracuse truck that brought him gassed water.

“And what would you have me do, then? Go out on the lake with you and fish through the ice?”

“Nah, you’d find a way to drown.”

Conlan felt his nose going red in the sun. The street was giving up vapors.

EVERYTHING was bare, except for the oaks, always the last to let go. The birches were right without leaves, their black limbs striping the white sky, their white paper bark mottled black. Conlan viewed uncreased gray water through them, the lake, Racquet Lake, which the Tunbridges could have named after themselves, but hadn’t, which they owned in some different way than their ore mountains and smelters and ships. More intimately, more seriously. Conlan went into the boathouse. He looked at the racked canoes, smelled varnish. His palms felt cold; his fingers tingled and twitched as if he had just held someone under, fatally.

FOR a living, the brother had cut wood and shot quail and hung windows and so on. People in the town liked his thrift. Then he wooed and won Miss Loretta Frame, who had served eight years as governess to the younger Tunbridge children, and they liked his sand. The brother had foresight, and was not ashamed. His fountain had a veined marble counter, checkered floor tiles, filigreed taps and faucets, an etched blue mirror, and in their season, fresh flowers at every table. Father Voss, the Lutheran, who liked a tulip sundae, said the brother’s place was so comfortable it made him think about retirement. The brother had to have new dentures, he smiled so much. Conlan wasn’t exactly jealous; but he was irritated. It was weak to take the money. He told Loretta the children wept whenever her name was mentioned.

THE Tunbridge family carried history the way soda carried the colors of syrup. They knew things by instinct.

Read more: Biblioklept

Simone de Beauvoir’s library card for Shakespeare and Company, Paris, 1937


Friday, March 29, 2024

Toni Morrison’s Rejection Letters

“I found it extremely honest, forthright, and moving in ways I had not expected it to be,” Toni Morrison wrote to an aspiring novelist in 1977, “but it is a shuddering book and one that offers no escape for any reader whatsoever.” 
During her 16 years at Random House, Morrison wrote hundreds of rejection letters. Usually typed on pink, yellow, or white carbonless copy paper, and occasionally bearing Random House’s old logo and letterhead, these are now filed among her correspondence in the Random House archives at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Learning To Move On

"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late." 
-Beryl Markham (Author of West with the Night)

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Mimesis by Fady Joudah

My daughter

wouldn’t hurt a spider

That had nested

Between her bicycle handles

For two weeks

She waited

Until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said

It will simply know

This isn’t a place to call home

And you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others

Become refugees isn’t it?

Friday, March 01, 2024

A Letter from E.B.White

E. B. White
Letter to his editor, Eugene Saxton
1st March 1939

Herewith an unfinished MS of a book called Stuart Little. It would seem to be for children, but I’m not fussy who reads it. You said you wanted to look at this, so I am presenting it thus in its incomplete state. There are about ten or twelve thousand words so far, roughly.

You will be shocked and grieved to discover that the principal character in the story has somewhat the attributes and appearance of a mouse. This does not mean that I am either challenging or denying Mr. Disney’s genius. At the risk of seeming a very whimsical fellow indeed, I will have to break down and confess to you that Stuart Little appeared to me in dream, all complete, with his hat, his cane, and his brisk manner. Since he was the only fictional figure ever to honor and disturb my sleep, I was deeply touched, and felt that I was not free to change him into a grasshopper or a wallaby. Luckily he bears no resemblance, either physically or temperamentally, to Mickey. I guess that’s a break for all of us.

(From Letters of E. B. White)

Twelve Moons - Mary Oliver


In March the earth remembers its own name.

Everywhere the plates of snow are cracking.

The rivers begin to sing. In the sky

the winter stars are sliding away; new stars

appear as, later, small blades of grain

will shine in the dark fields.

And the name of every place

is joyful.


The season of curiosity is everlasting

and the hour for adventure never ends,

but tonight

even the men who walked upon the moon

are lying content

by open windows

where the winds are sweeping over the fields,

over water,

over the naked earth,

into villages, and lonely country houses, and the vast cities


because it is spring;

because once more the moon and the earth are eloping -

a love match that will bring forth fantastic children

who will learn to stand, walk, and finally run

    over the surface of earth;

who will believe, for years,

that everything is possible.


Born of clay,

how shall a man be holy;

born of water,

how shall a man visit the stars;

born of the seasons,

how shall a man live forever?



the child of the red-spotted newt, the eft,

will enter his life from the tiny egg.

On his delicate legs

he will run through the valleys of moss

down to the leaf mold by the streams,

where lately white snow lay upon the earth

like a deep and lustrous blanket

of moon-fire,


and probably


is possible.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Pete and Alice in Maine

This novel by Caitlin Shetterly takes place in the spring of 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic in New York City. The city was in lockdown with bodies literally piling up. Alice decides that she and her hedge fund manager husband Pete and their two young daughters, Sophie and Iris, would be safer at their vacation property in Maine. When they arrive they find the local population unwelcoming to people from New York who could be carrying the virus. Someone cuts down a couple of their trees to block their driveway and leaves a note telling them that they are unwelcome in the community. We discover that Pete and Alice are having marital problems, the children fight with each other constantly and snarl at their parents. The book provides flashbacks to the early days of Pete and Alice’s relationship when they were younger and very much in love. Then they had the kids and the younger child, Iris, was one of those babies that  hardly slept and cried all the time. I had one like that and I can tell you from experience that Shetterly captures the fatigue and frustration that parents of such children feel and the stress it can place on a marriage. Then we discover that there are other issues that are making Alice sad and angry. Pete is a jerk, Alice is a martyr, the kids are badly behaved. I read the book quickly. By the time I reached the end I was bored and tired of this privileged, self absorbed family and was relieved to put the book down.

The Wren, The Wren


The Wren, The Wren by Anne Enright is the second  inter-generational Irish novel I’ve read this year. The thread that ties three generations of women together is a drunken philandering poet, Phil McDaragh, who is the pride of his countrymen and adored  internationally. He abandoned his dying wife, who had been his muse, and his two young daughters, Imelda and Carmel, to seek fame and fortune in America. This desertion happened long before Carmel’s daughter, Nell, was born but has had a negative impact on her as well. Phil is dead but his legacy of emotional traumatization lives on. The story is told from the perspectives of Carmel and Nell with a brief, self-serving interjection from Phil. 

Carmel and Nell have a complicated relationship and their relationships with others are just as fraught. Carmel is a single parent by choice, to avoid her own mother’s fate. Carmel does not know how to express her deep love for her daughter and Nell becomes enmeshed in a masochistic relationship which only ends when the abuser abandons her. But in the end Nell appears to be on her way to escaping the chains of her history.

With this new novel Anne Enright cements her reputation as one of the great living writers.