William Gardner Smith’s The Stone Face (Book acquired, 17 June 2021)

William Gardner Smith’s 1963 novel The Stone Face is being reissued next month by NYRB. Their blurb:

As a teenager, Simeon Brown lost an eye in a racist attack, and this young African American journalist has lived in his native Philadelphia in a state of agonizing tension ever since. After a violent encounter with white sailors, Simeon makes up his mind to move to Paris, known as a safe haven for black artists and intellectuals, and before long he is under the spell of the City of Light, where he can do as he likes and go where he pleases without fear. Through Babe, another black American émigré, he makes new friends, and soon he has fallen in love with a Polish actress who is a concentration camp survivor. At the same time, however, Simeon begins to suspect that Paris is hardly the racial wonderland he imagined: The French government is struggling to suppress the revolution in Algeria, and Algerians are regularly stopped and searched, beaten, and arrested by the French police, while much worse is to come, it will turn out, in response to the protest march of October 1961. Through his friendship with Hossein, an Algerian radical, Simeon realizes that he can no longer remain a passive spectator to French injustice. He must decide where his true loyalties lie.

Burke and Wills Expedition V — Sidney Nolan

Burke and Wills Expedition V, 1975 by Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)

“The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke” — David Lehman

“The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke”
David Lehman

Can’t swim; uses credit cards and pills to combat
               intolerable feelings of inadequacy;
Won’t admit his dread of boredom, chief impulse behind
​               numerous marital infidelities;
Looks fat in jeans, mouths clichés with confidence,
​               breaks mother’s plates in fights;
Buys when the market is too high, and panics during
​               the inevitable descent;
Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference
​               between Pepsi and Coke,
Has defined the darkness of red at dawn, memorized
​               the splash of poppies along
Deserted railway tracks, and opposed the war in Vietnam
​               months before the students,
Years before the politicians and press; give him
​               a minute with a road map
And he will solve the mystery of bloodshot eyes;
​               transport him to mountaintop
And watch him calculate the heaviness and height
​               of the local heavens;
Needs no prompting to give money to his kids; speaks
​               French fluently, and tourist German;
Sings Schubert in the shower; plays pinball in Paris;
​               knows the new maid steals, and forgives her.

“Noah / Ham: Fathers of the Year” — Douglas Kearney

“Noah/Ham: Fathers of the Year,” a poem by Douglas Kearney

“Fathers” — Grace Paley



Grace Paley

Fathers are
more fathering
these days they have
accomplished this by
being more mothering

what luck for them that
women’s lib happened then
the dream of new fathering
began to shine in the eyes
of free women and was irresistible

on the New York subways
and the mass transits
of other cities one may
see fatherings of many colors
with their round babies on
their laps this may also
happen in the countryside

these scenes were brand new
exciting for an old woman who
had watched the old fathers
gathering once again in
familiar army camps and com-
fortable war rooms to consider
the necessary eradication of
the new fathering fathers
(who are their sons) as well
as the women and children who
will surely be in the way.

Burke and Wills Expedition IV — Sidney Nolan

Burke and Wills Expedition IV, 1975 by Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)

Burke and Wills Expedition III — Sidney Nolan

Burke and Wills Expedition III, 1975 by Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)

Satan — George Frederic Watts

Satan, 1847 by George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)

Swamp Cottage — Davor Gromilovic

Swamp Cottage, 2018 by Davor Gromilovic (b. 1985)

“A Brief History of the Passenger Pigeon” — Lynn Pedersen

“A Brief History of the Passenger Pigeon”


Lynn Pedersen

Not to be confused with messenger pigeons, birds sent behind enemy lines in war, but think passengers as in birds carrying suitcases, sharing a berth on a train, or traveling in bamboo cages on a ship, always migrating on a one-way to extinction. How would extinction look on a graph? A steady climb, or a plateau, then a precipitous cliff at the dawn of humans?

Nesting grounds eight hundred square miles in area. Skies swollen with darkening multitudes. Days and days of unbroken flocks passing over. Ectopistes migratorius.

And the last of the species, Martha, named for Martha Washington, dies in a cage in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Forget clemency. We are the worst kind of predator, not even deliberate in our destruction. Our killing happens à la carte, on the side (side of Dodo?).

And because the nineteenth century did not enlist a battlefield artist for extinctions, there are no official witnesses to the slaughter, just participants. If you could somehow travel back to this scene, through the would-be canvas, you would run flailing your arms toward the hardwood forests and the men with sticks and guns and boiling sulphur pots to bring birds out of the trees, as if you could deliver 50,000 individual warnings, or throw yourself prostrate on the ground, as if your one body could hold sway.

The Exchange — Peter Martensen

The Exchange, 2018 by Peter Martensen (b. 1953)

Bloomsday budget

An economic summary (perhaps) of Ulysses. From “Ithaca”–

Compile the budget for 16 June 1904. DEBIT
1 Pork Kidney
1 Bath And Gratification
1 In Memoriam Patrick Dignam
2 Banbury cakes
1 Lunch
1 Renewal fee for book
1 Packet Notepaper and Envelopes
1 Dinner and Gratification
1 Postal Order and Stamp
1 Pig’s Foot
1 Sheep’s Trotter
1 Cake Fry’s Plain Chocolate
1 Square Soda Bread
1 Coffee and Bun
Loan (Stephen Dedalus) refunded


L. s. d.
Cash in hand
Commission recd. Freeman’s Journal
Loan (Stephen Dedalus)

L. s. d.


Burke and Wills Expedition II — Sidney Nolan

Burke and Wills Expedition II, 1975 by Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)

“Sand Flesh and Sky” — Clarence Major

“Sand Flesh and Sky”
Clarence Major

Our ropes are the roots
of our life. We fish
low in the earth,
the river beneath runs through our veins,
blue and cold in a riverbed.

When the sun comes up,
the moon moves slowly to the left.

I tie the logs and limbs together,
holding them in place.

The ocean beats them
smooth like rock.
Here my sense of time is flat.

I find in a strip of damp sand
footprints and marks of hands,
and torn pieces of flesh.

Night is a beast.
The tide moves, gushing
back and forth.

Sunlight touches our faces,
turning us, turning us, turning us
in our morning sleep.

“Pretty Fly” | Scene from + short riff on The Night of the Hunter

I watched  The Night Of The Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955) last night for the first time in at least fifteen years. Robert Mitchum’s Bluebeard-preacher figure is the main thing that stuck with me from earlier viewings. He’s the awful, captivating, horrifying and paradoxically ever-moving center of dread in a film that is essentially about despair and hope (qualities simplified to tattoos of “LOVE” and “HATE” on his hands). Watching it last night though, I was surprised at how beautiful, even tranquil the film is at times–a kind of tranquility underpinned by the natural world’s flat indifference to humanity’s suffering coupled with Mitchum’s character’s sinister avarice. The long scene of the children escaping on the river at night, guided in part by their own music is particularly moving, a strange interplay of chiaroscuro expressionism and documentary naturalism. The voyage echoes the film’s direct allusions to Moses’ escape in the ark of bulrushes (as well as hinting at Twain’s Huck Finn). It’s a lovely transition to the film’s final third, wherein Lillian Gish’s stern but loving maternal presence overtakes the narrative. My memory had swallowed her eminence, but I don’t think I’ll forget this time that it’s her character who gets the last hopeful words: “ They abide, and they endure.”

Plain Fingers — Yu Hong

Plain Fingers, 2013 by Yu Hong (b. 1966)

The Return — Stephen Greene

The Return, 1950 by Stephen Greene (1918-1999)