February-July 2018 Edition RSS feed for this section

“The Burden of the Unwritten” by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Several years ago, the great late poet and Faulkner scholar Louis Daniel Brodsky wrote this piece for me after some particularly intense and creative correspondence between us. This is one of a few dedicated poems. He assured me that any published or unpublished work that he sent to me would be fair game for sharing. I’m deeply honored by his sentiments, and I miss him even more deeply. Thank you, L.D.


The Burden of the Unwritten
For David Herrle

Often, I obsess over all that I’ve missed — not written,
Not heated in inscrutable oblivion’s scalding cauldron,
Not forged in molds formed out of the origins of my poetry,

Not wrought into shapes every bit as exquisite, in their simplicity,
As Grecian urns, Egyptian amphoras, Chinese vases,
Not harvested, to nourish appetites of the starving mind.

Whenever my thoughts compel me in this demoralizing direction,
I sense my veins rise to the surface of my flesh,
Like silken spider webs rippling in silence’s quivering breeze,

As if I were a fragile, gasping creature trying to catch my breath,
Revitalize my slowing blood flow,
And I realize that the stress created by all I’ve not composed

Is an infinitely inordinate burden on my psyche,
For my failure to connect with the source of my life-force,
Derive, from it, the dialogue between my body and my soul.

That’s why, every opportunity I’m given or can grasp,
I transmute ideas, images, metaphors, symbols, rhymes
Into concrete linkages with the world that embodies my spirit,

Maniacally fighting off the demons who’d silence my yearnings
To transcend my heart’s inarticulateness,
Annihilate my craving to quest for the secrets of the ineffable.

“Suspended” by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Several years ago, the great late poet and Faulkner scholar Louis Daniel Brodsky wrote this piece for me after some particularly intense and creative correspondence between us. He assured me that any published or unpublished work that he sent to me would be fair game for sharing. I’m deeply honored by his sentiments, and I miss him even more deeply. Thank you, L.D.


For David Herrle

Nothing much escapes you,
Nothing much, that is, but escape itself —
A void where you’ve been colluding with time, your entire life.

How is it that everyone else who knows you,
Even those who don’t,
Know what you don’t: that escape is your only reason for being,

The great justification for your purblind existence,
In which each awakening is a disappearance
Into the cave that’s warm enough to support your fetal sleep,

Each sleep an awakening into the nowhere you’ve just vacated,
At the far end of the same changeless day
That sustains your obliviousness to the death you’ve been living?

Nothing much escapes you,
Nothing much, that is, but escape itself,
That womb in which you’re suspended in inescapable darkness.





LD showing off a typewriter that used too belong to William Faulkner

David Herrle interviews Patrick Symmes, author of THE DAY FIDEL DIED: CUBA IN THE AGE OF RAÚL, OBAMA, AND THE ROLLING STONES

(This interview also is featured at Bookolage.)

According to the late dictator Fidel Castro, the Revolución Cubana’s legacy was almost blameless, constructive, justifiably defiant and positively epochal rather than dystopian and fated for failure. However, besides ever-intrusive government, the quest for mass social justice requires drastic actions, so it’s easy to find Fidel’s denials of civil-rights abuses, executions and intolerance incredible. 

On the other hand, adopting an either/or take on the man is lazy, since we’re all susceptible to armchair diagnoses and essentializations. One mustn’t doubt that Fidel was an impressive, suave, profound and smart person. Also, he cannot be considered without considering Cuba itself, since for more than half a century his personality (real, perceived and fabricated) has “spoken” for the nation he wrested from Batista, a ruler who shared more similarities than differences with the more gregarious rival. 

An astute handler of this subject and equipped with some worthy first-hand knowledge of Cuban life (previously told in depth in an excellent Harper’s Magazine article called “Thirty Days as a Cuban”), Patrick Symmes has achieved in The Day Fidel Castro Died: Cuba in the Age of Raúl, Obama, and the Rolling Stones, an intellectually/politically honest portrayal: fair enough to admit favorable points and not to demonize irresponsibly, yet wise enough to resist belief in the regime’s careful charade.

When Viking proposed an interview between me and the author, I accepted with some apprehension, fearing yet another fawning take on Fidel Castro and romanticization of collectivist dictatorships in general. I needn’t have hesitated. Smoothly written and of perfect compact length, The Day Fidel Castro Died has earned my appreciation, respect and endorsement. Please enjoy our exchange.


For fifty-seven years every blown lightbulb was the work of the Americans.
– The Day Fidel Castro Died

DAVID: In Castro: A Graphic Novel Volker Skierka observes that Fidel’s story is “so true that one couldn’t invent it without it seeming implausible.” Despite the inconvenient truths of Fidel, his heyday rattling of history is remarkable, even cinematic. In your book you aptly quote Hamlet’s Hamlet: “He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.” (Think Touch of Evil’s Tanya: “He was some kind of a man.”) How do Fidel’s attractive style, intellect and articulation strike you? Why are eclectic, clever rogues so compelling? Tell us about your preparative approach to, as you put it, “the singularity that is Fidel.” 

PATRICK: He was transgressive, in the beginning. A young lawyer from the best schools, married into a top family, yet he grew a beard and risked his life in battle rather than accommodate himself to that system. The kids who grew up with him actually feared him, because he was so strong-willed, so devoted to his own exceptionalism. It was easy to hope and believe he would usher in a new era of freedom; the vast majority of Cubans and even many Americans supported him by January 1, 1958. But over time the transgressive appeal faded: he cracked down on dissent, long hair, rock and roll, private stores, one thing after another that alienated people. Yet, by constantly flowing and adapting – Soviet when he needed to be, champion of Africa, denunciatory environmentalist – he always had a new way to captivate, justify, and even thrill. But you can’t sustain faith for decades, and whole generations disappeared while nothing ever changed. The uniforms, slogans, and even names are mostly the same today as in 1959. What was once captivating to millions became tired and hypocritical long ago. I was stunned – almost no one important showed up for his funeral! 

DAVID: You think Fidel “should have died young and left a beautiful corpse” in order to be “purified by distance” rather than grow old gracelessly. Meanwhile unctuous Ignacio Ramonet includes him in “the pantheon of world figures who have struggled most fiercely for social justice and with greatest solidarity came to the aid of the oppressed.” Yet you (rightly) write that “he became the dictator he’d rebelled against, the problem to his own solution.” Did Fidel make any significant difference against social injustice and oppression? Is Cuba worse or better off because of the Castro regime?

PATRICK: Certainly the social programs of the Revolution had a broad impact: mass literacy, access to a doctor even in rural hamlets, the promotion of black and brown Cubans to sectors of education and social acceptance that were closed. But of course, many countries achieved mass education without mass surveillance. Many countries today have universal health care, but also elections. And in the meantime, so many other sectors of life simply degraded. Havana is a disaster, physically – at least two houses a day fall down in the city, and whole neighborhoods are abandoned due to collapsed roofs and hurricane damage that isn’t fixed even a decade later. The system is paralysis. You can’t even get basic medicines anymore. I still don’t know how to weigh one against the other: the declared intent to help the poor and disadvantaged was valuable, but it didn’t have to come at this cost, where more than 10% of the population fled. The United States exacerbated the problem, but I think it is clear now that the problem began in Cuba, with Fidel’s conflation of himself with the nation. 

DAVID: Fidel likened his social vision to Christ’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes, which is laughable, given the food shortages/rationing exemplified by your passage about a Cuban family’s monthly seafood allotment being “only one fish each – usually a dried, oily mackerel.” Yet, you do admit some promising relaxation effected by less orthodox Raoul Castro. What is your prediction for Cuba? Is sincere amity between it and the U.S. possible? Mustn’t communism be eschewed to launch and maintain a Cuban renaissance?

PATRICK: Prediction is a dark art, but here goes. I think they can and will lose the communism, but keep the Castro. What I mean by that is that, once Raúl passes, the Revolution is just another movement, a political party. Communism is not central to its survival in the future. That’s why Raúl, with the greatest reluctance and constant retrenchment, has relaxed economic controls, allowed widespread self-employment, and facilitated an unprecedented business boom. The core doctrine is not communism, but Fidelism, the idea of the Revolution as a historic mandate. Survival is all. Remember that experiments with privatizing food production began in 1961 – just one year after the nationalization of all farms!

Fidel was always the ideologue, while from the beginning Raúl actually organized the army and ran the machinery of state, seeing the numbers. He’s pragmatic. As long as it doesn’t conflict with his ability to control society, he tolerates economic changes. I think that’s the model for the future. After he dies, the party will continue to rule, but slowly, eventually, I expect them to let go of the economy. The U.S. won’t be able to resist that for long, and I expect the embargo will be forgotten as soon as American companies sense they are losing big opportunities there. As Fidel always feared, that will lead to an independent population, demands for increased pluralism, and even elections. This could take many, many years, but I fully expect to see a member of the Castro family leading a revolutionary party in elections for president of Cuba someday – once all the old crimes are forgotten. Raúl’s daughter Mariela, highly educated, and his grandson, a dimwitted security goon, are both likely candidates. And of course Fidel had five acknowledged sons and illegitimate offspring all over the island. 

DAVID: At the Bay of Pigs the men of doomed Brigade 2506, blindly trusting the CIA and American military might, paid dearly for the flinching White House’s abandonment. This created disillusionment that, I think, helped eventuate “Pepe” San Roman’s 1989 suicide. Tell us about your claim that “the fundamental failure at the Bay of Pigs was not tactical, it was moral.”

PATRICK: I meant that as an accusation against my country, America. The moral failure was believing that America had the right to invade Cuba, to decide things by bombs and sabotage. The Kennedy brothers knew it was wrong; that’s why they tried to hide the American hand, and abandoned the 2506 Brigade rather than launch a US invasion. Among the exiles themselves, the moral failure was more complex: they were blind to the popular support the Revolution had attained, but at least it was their own country they were invading.

DAVID: In extreme contrast to their music having been banned in Cuba in the 1960s, the Rolling Stones (who certainly won’t leave beautiful corpses) first performed in Havana in 2016, which was seen by many attendees as fruit from President Obama’s historic outreach. Far from gushing over brave rapprochement, you say that Obama wielded an ultimate weapon: “treat[ing] the island as normal.” Please explain.

PATRICK: Fidel always claimed the mantle of history and used a kind of histrionic style that placed Cuba at the center of world events. That was true in 1959, 1961, and 1963, but no matter how much the propaganda repeats it still today, Cubans know that the island is weak and left behind. Obama called the Castro bluff. He bypassed their central symbol – no handshake or meeting with Fidel –while showing he was utterly unafraid or unimpressed by the Revolution. He spoke directly to the Cuban people about the value of democracy and human rights, live on national television. Without actually lifting the embargo, he sent an incredibly strong signal to Cubans about the future, telling them to bet on economic changes and a welcoming U.S. Now Trump has renewed the exchange of hostilities and accusations, which I fear has shattered that clear vision of where the two countries were going. 

DAVID: I know of some Americans packing giveaway items (travel-size shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) to be doled out to people they’d encounter on their Cuban vacation. Is this a tactless fad of “slumming” interlopers – and, if so, is such condescension noticed by the folks down there? By the way, why is Cuba such a novelty for many Americans?

PATRICK: Back in the 1990s, a woman burst into tears when I gave her bar of soap. I have never once had a Cuban complain that it was condescending! I find only well-fed Westerners feel guilty about this kind of thing. Nowadays soap is widely available, but only in the dollar stores, at hard-currency prices that few Cubans can afford. So give, and give freely – even a pair of old shoes will find a use. As to the second question, one novelty for Americans can be how American it feels. You can still see the old American brand names on 60-year old signs, the cars are famously American, Havana is full of old American-built hotels, and Cubans themselves have longstanding ties to us, from long before 1958. And of course, the veil of hostility and politics makes all of that seem more exotic and unknown. I feel like I’m a blockade runner when I’m in Cuba. The Canadians are just feeling regular. 

DAVID: Another novelty is Che Guevara, whom Fidel called “an indestructible moral force,” neglecting the man’s atrocious, hypocritical, Stalinist ways. Alberto Korda’s famous merchandized Che image still delights the ignorant or enthralled, though he would’ve had them silenced or executed at La Cabana prison – and he certainly was anti-Rolling Stones. How do you view popular lionization of Che?

PATRICK: The more I learned about his real actions, the more disturbed I became. But eventually I burst out the other side of my cynicism and said, dammit, there is something really important at work here. His image is vastly more influential than the Cuban Revolution itself. I’ve seen peasants in Peru cry as they discussed “the Che” and what he did for them. The historic inaccuracy of that is one thing, but the yawning need for a hero impressed me. People had to reinvent Che, because Latin America has produced so few real champions for the poor. He was the one who actually had the good sense to die young and leave a beautiful corpse. 

DAVID: I compare Che to Saint-Just, the bloodthirstiest devil of the French Revolution, which, like the later major “egalitarian” revolutions, involved social-justice warfare, bitter secularization, property theft and belief in extreme remaking of humanity. Only the American Revolution avoided reprisals, atrocity, police statehood and denial of human nature – and it still hasn’t been duplicated. Why is this? Are potential Nazi Germanies or Jonestowns lurking in all utopians’ genes?

PATRICK: I think that DNA is lurking in all of us. We’re a social species, but I’m impressed with how violent we can become, so quickly. The utopians are convinced they can act on the world. The American founders were afraid of that; they hemmed us in with divided powers and checks and balances. I’m afraid I’ll have to subscribe to the traditional Burkean view that gradual change that reforms institutions works better than radical overthrow of the whole orders. I hope Cuba has careful, steady change over many years, but most Cubans will tell you they are ardiente, or fiery. They may come think they can change everything at once. 

DAVID: Perhaps the most important thing you learned during your Havana residence was Cubans’ fortitude in spite of a police-state environment and deprivation: “In the midst of this suffering, the dignity and pathos of ordinary Cubans struck me deeply.” Tell us more about this. And what do you think of the long trend of defection and the recent spike in emigration to the U.S.?

PATRICK: I’ve learned that the best people live in the worst places. It creates solidarity and fellow feeling even amid deprivation and struggle. But Cubans are smart enough to read the wind, and many rushed to America just before the open immigration policy ended. Enormous numbers are still leaving the island for Central America and really anywhere they can get, because they think they will live better abroad than at home. It’s going to continue.


Visit Patrick’s official site here.
David Herrle is a freelance writer and founder of SubtleTea.

visual art by Marsha Wajer

Marsha works as a freelance illustrator and digital painter in South Australia. Visit her site here

Pineapple Head

Be Careful What You Wish For

Fish Feet

Vera Tequiliana

Elliott and the travel bug from Elliott Catches a Bug by David Danks

Moo and Ginger from Moo and the Sleepy Secret by Catherine Clarke

“Nobody’s House” by Lauren Buckingham

I saw him again today. I’m afraid of him. There’s just something about that man, the way he looks at people, the way he looks at me. I know he wants to hurt me. I can’t let him.

I peel back the curtains and take a look out the window. I can’t see him now, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t there. I hope he isn’t.

I close the curtains again, shutting out the blinding white-gold rays of sunlight, shutting out the world outside my window. I remember how I used to love this window. It was the reason I chose this room for my studio when we first moved in.

I think back often to those first days here in this house. I didn’t expect to like it here at all. I never wanted to move here, that was Doug’s idea. He grew up out in the country, he said it would be good for the kids, they would have room to play, they’d be out of the city, away from all the predators and pitfalls that came along with city life.

I still don’t like it. I’ve tried to, I really have. I think I managed to convince Doug that I like it here, and for a while I managed to convince myself, but that was before our new neighbor moved in. After I saw him, the spaces seemed a lot wider, the dusty roads more desolate, and the quiet air even eerier.

I close the curtains and sit back down at my easel and try to focus on the canvas in front of It’s not finished, not even close. All it looks like now is a series of shapes and lines. That’s my favorite part of the creative process, the early stages when I can see something starting to take shape but no one else but me knows what it will be. It’s like my little secret, at least for a while.

My project at the moment is a close-up of a lemon, sliced in half, seeds and all. Why a lemon? Why not? That’s the beauty of modern art, it can be random and not make any sense. Just like life.

I squint harder and hold the picture I took in the kitchen closer to my face. I try to study the finer points of the fruit, the lines, the pores of the skin, the pointy off-white seeds, the varying shades of yellow.

All of a sudden, a loud crash sounds from outside. Startled, I looked up and arise from my chair. I don’t want to look out the window, but I have to. I ease back over to the window and slowly slip my fingers underneath the curtain. I peek out the window but I don’t see anything. Not at first, anyway. I look closer and that’s when I see it.

Relieved, I see the tree in our yard. That’s all it was, nothing more, nothing less. It’s been windy out today, the wind must have knocked it over. I suppose I’ll have to go out and pick it up, or I could just wait until Doug gets home. If I did that, he’d probably want to know why, and if I told him he’d just laugh at me and tell me I’m being silly. Or, he would take me seriously and ask me if I took my medication today.

He does that, sometimes, whenever I seemed a little bit off. He doesn’t come out and say it, of course. He’ll say things like “Are you feeling all right, Gemma?” or “Did you take care of things?” That’s the one that really gets under my skin. Of course, he doesn’t mean it to, he never does. He means well, I know that. He just wants what’s best for me.

I hold my head up. I’m going to be brave. I’m going to go out there and clean up the yard. If I see him, I’ll just go back inside, lock the door, and put a chair in front of the door.

I grab my green hoodie from the back of my chair and settle myself into it. I shut the door to my studio and I head to the garage to grab a rake and a trash bag.

Outside, I can see the tree branches strewn haphazardly throughout the front yard. It’s a mess, but I’m sure it won’t take long to clean up. Like many things, it looks much worse than it is.

Just as I bend down to start cleaning the branches, a voice calls out behind me. “Gemma?”

My heart skips a beat. I turned around. It’s him. He knows my name. How does he know my name? Then it occurs to me. I don’t even know his name.

“W-what are you doing here?” I manage to stammer.

He laughs and his face settles into a complacent smirk. “What do you mean, what I’m doing here? I’m your neighbor. I’m just trying to get acquainted, you know, be neighborly.” He starts pacing towards me.

I shake my head, but I can’t speak. My throat feels like it is closing up more and more with each step he takes.

“Come on, Gemma, let’s be neighborly.” He grinned. He moves closer, his hands outstretched and spread apart. Sweat drips down his ruddy face, and his beady eyes gleam with wicked delight.

“No…” I feel the word slip past my lips, but I can’t hear my own voice. I back away from him, but he is still coming closer to me. I turn around, I try to run, and I feel his hands grip my waist. He tries to pull me to the ground, but just as I’m about to fall, I grab hold of the rake.

“Yes, Gemma, you and me…” He whispers, in a low, menacing purr.

“No!” I shout, this time so loud I hear the echo of my voice.

I pick up the rake, and I swing at him. The edge of the rake strikes his temple. He smiles at me, as though he hadn’t felt the blow at all. He tries to lunge at me, but I hit him again, I hit him harder and harder, over and over. He screams, he cries, he tries to fight back, but it is no use. I’m the powerful one now. I watch him grow weaker and weaker until he finally collapses to the ground, never to get up again.

It takes a few moments for me to realize what I’ve done. His battered lifeless form lies sprawled on the ground, his reddish blonde curls streaked with blood, his face left barely recognizable by the rake. I’m shocked. I’m horrified. I just wanted him to leave me alone. I never wanted this.

As I look at the scene in front of me, I start to tremble. I’ve killed him, I realize. Now what do I do? It was self-defense, I tell myself. It was, wasn’t it? I hit him so that he would leave me alone, so that he couldn’t hurt me.

I stare down at my hands, then at his bloodied body, and back at my hands. There is not a scratch on me. I’m not injured, there’s not even any blood on me, no evidence of what he tried to. It’s my word against his. And he’s not talking. He’ll never talk again.

Overkill. That’s what they’ll call it. I can’t go to the police. They wouldn’t believe me. I could end up in prison, or even sentenced to death. A chill runs through my body. I can’t let that happen. My kids can’t grow up without a mother. I can’t handle prison. I don’t want to die.

I’ll have to get rid of the body. There isn’t any other way. I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I know I have to. The trash bag. Of course. That’s where I’ll put him.

I stoop down, gather up the bag and pull the crinkly black plastic around him. I carefully stuff him into the bag, and next I do what I came out here to do in the first place. I finish picking up the leaves and branches, now bloodstained, and toss them into the trash bag as well.

I notice how tidy the yard looks, once I’m done cleaning up. If someone were to drive by right now, they would have no idea what just happened. Of course, people seldom ever drive by here. There’s only two houses on this stretch of road, our house and his house. Well, it was his house. I suppose now it’s nobody’s house.

I drag the plastic bag into the garage. Oddly enough, it’s not as heavy as I feared it would be. I don’t know where I’m going to hide the body, somewhere out in the desert, maybe. But I can’t right now. I can hardly think, and the kids will be home soon. I’ll do it tomorrow, when I have more time, once I figure out where I can put him so no one will ever find him. For the time being, I place him in the trunk of my car.

As I turn to go back inside the house, I pause and take one more look at my car. It’s hard for me to believe that there’s a dead man in there, and that I killed him. Maybe I’ll never fully believe it. Or maybe it will sink in when I have to bury him. I don’t know. All I know is if that I want to get through this, I have to keep going. And going.


“This is delicious, Gemma. Nice job,” Doug remarked, later that night at the dinner table.

“Thank you,” I respond in a quiet voice.

Somehow I managed to pull myself together long enough to make dinner. Actually, it served as a comfort to me, something to focus on, to keep my mind off of what I’ve done. I still can’t believe that the same hands that made dinner for my family tonight killed a man just hours before. But I don’t regret it.

Doug looks up from his plate. “Did you hear we might be getting a new neighbor soon?”

I drop my fork, and I can feel my pulse race. But, how? No one knows who’s dead yet. Do they?

Doug chuckles. “Don’t look so surprised, that house has sat empty for almost a year. I didn’t think it would be long before they found a buyer.”

“But –” I manage to say. “That man…”

“No, it’s not a man who bought it,” Doug continued. “She’s a single mom, with two kids about the ages of ours.” He looks over at our two children and said, “You’ll finally have someone else to play with out here.”

“No,” I say. “I met the man who was living there. He moved in a few days ago, he used to walk by here all the time. Haven’t you seen him?”

He stares at me, puzzled. “No. There’s been no one living there.” He paused. “Gemma, have you…?”

I shake my head. I don’t know what to say.

“Excuse me.” I bolt from the table, and hurry out to the kitchen. I dig into my purse and grab my keys. Trembling, I head to the garage and pop the trunk lid open. I hoist the trunk lid up. Inside, I see the plastic garbage bag, with weeds sticking out the side of the bag. I tear open the bag and sift through the weeds, leaves and branches.

No dead body.  And no body at all. No blood, either.

I look around the garage and I see the rake, clean and also free of blood. As if it never happened. I turn around and race out of the garage, back into the house, past my family still seated at the table, so accustomed my unpredictable ways that they barely notice. I run to the bedroom and open my dresser drawer.

I smile, as I pick up my pill box and take a look inside. Today is Wednesday, I remember that much. I notice today’s dose is still there. I see M, T, F, S and S are still there, too. I haven’t taken my medicine in nearly a week.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Things happen when I don’t take my medicine. Or, rather, they don’t happen. Things don’t happen, but I think that they do.

I reach for a water bottle, toss a pill in my mouth, and take a huge gulp of water before the acidic taste of the pill can burn my tongue. I feel the tablet slide down my throat, and I take another gulp of water for good measure.

“Hello, reality,” I murmur aloud. “I’m on my way back…”

“Unread Harvest” by Mathias B. Freese

(This is an excerpt from Freese’s new memoir, And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau.)

I am disappointed to find that most that I am and value
for myself is lost, or worst than lost, on my audience. I
fail to get even attention of the mass. I should suit them
better if I suited myself less. I feel that the public demand
an average man,—average thoughts and manners,—not
originality, nor even absolute excellence.
—Thoreau, Journal

Whenever I am under considerable stress, my gums become impacted and decay sets in. Having found a dentist, I discovered that I needed root-canal work and four crowns put in. Disheartening. Stress goes straight to my mouth. I have endured gum disease and bone loss.

I was not in good spirits for my recent dental treatment, and restoration required me to lie on my back for over an hour. At the checkout desk, two women sat at their stations as I approached to pay part of my bill. Jenny, the office manager, ended up revealing that she enjoys traveling and has been to New York. Michelle, the other woman, joined in, and in the three-way conversation I regaled them with my love for the Big Apple, how digestible food is not to be found in Alabama – which Jenny agreed with wholeheartedly – and how I missed my hometown dearly. I am an urban man in the boonies.

The conversation became animated, had me babbling and made me feel alive. It brightened my day and erased my former low spirits. Good conversation with others can do that. I shared my background as a New York City cab driver, an English teacher, a shrink, and an author of several books, promising each woman a copy by next appointment.

I also spoke of the Viking cruise down a French river Nina and I took in August of 2016. We docked at several French towns, and most of our navigation was done at night. One town guide was a young man, maybe in his late twenties. I engaged him as he showed us the sights, and when I discovered a synagogue, he was more than willing to bring the group in and make the arrangements to get access. Across the way from the synagogue’s door, high up on a wall, was a marker citing the capture of Jews in the area back in the Nazi era. Eventually, as we strolled I learned that the guide was a singer, but not an ordinary one. He revealed that he had a high falsetto voice and that he was studied in music. With encouragement by me and others who had learned of his other talent, he agreed to sing for us in a nearby courtyard. He settled down, he settled in, he clasped his face in his hands, and when he was ready his astonishing voice adorned the area like melancholic roses spread across a wall. Passersby and cyclists stopped, a woman curiously looked out her window. Later on, when we were about to embark on our ship, he sang a farewell song. It was an entirely blissful way to experience not only France but one another, our shared humanity.

We met another French guide named Pierre Brunel. When I returned to America, I sent him a copy of I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust. He has never replied to me. Perhaps my book was not to his liking.

Pierre was leading a group of us through a French town when he spontaneously addressed everyone about his family’s history in the area. His mother’s family had rescued a Jewish doctor and his wife, but the wife was captured and gassed in Auschwitz. The doctor survived with the dogged help of Brunel’s family, though some family members were killed. After the war the doctor continued to treat the Brunels for over forty years. Brunel was inordinately proud of what his family had done. I drew him aside to see if I could engage him, garner more details, since I had written two books on the Holocaust.

After some talk, he reached into his shirt and removed a necklace with a large silver Jewish star on it, which he said was a constant reminder of the event. I was stunned and moved. I shared with him my admiration for his brave family and told him of my background, followed by a promise to send him a copy of my book when I returned to the States.

I revealed this riveting story to Jenny and Michelle, and they were quite taken by it, as I had been. Leaving the office, I felt renewed by having shared some tales of fascinating human beings and brightened by those who were willing to listen to me. I am thinking now of the trademark line of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski: “The Dude abides.”

When readers explain to me why they will not review my book, I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust, I have noticed, in some instances, that the two stories they do like are what I call “Anne Frank” efforts. That is, the stories are safe and give humanity a free pass, playing on the cello strings of the human heart. Most of my stories are idiosyncratic, gritty, graphic, savage, caustic, and satirical.

They take no prisoners. When the head of a Jewish studies program wrote to me that she “shuddered” upon reading my other stories, I found that schizoid. In a world in which we now have beheadings, her dainty perspective and head-up-her-ass attitude are hard to take. She is an intellectual wuss.

Films are much more graphic than books, but books incise into the mind in a different way. So, here is a Holocaust educator who has circumscribed what she reads, to admit and accept only what is safe. In Terrence Des Pres’s book The Survivor, about the concentration camp experience, he graphically describes how camp guards made some Jews eat their own shit. It happened. Learn from it. As a writer, use it. Don’t flinch. Or get out of the Holocaust experience as a writer.

If I were to write a story in which an inmate has to eat his own shit, I wonder if it would be rejected immediately. Of course it would. It would make her “shudder.” My literary imaginings bother her more than beheadings.

Another writer and educator, barely containing her rage, complained to me that she had no time for fiction about the Holocaust, that we should spend more time taking down the stories of survivors, become memoir recorders, assisting them in encapsulating their experiences.

I have no problem with that at all, but in the same breath she castigated Holocaust fiction as a waste of time at this time in history. Holocaust as memoir, Holocaust as remembrance—is that all there is? So no more Primo Levi, no more Elie Wiesel, no more Olga Lengyel. No time for explication and exploration, or interpretation. (I am a staunch Jew. I make trouble. I wear no Star of David on my neck, but I have always dreamed of having a question mark fashioned to take its place.)

I must say judgmentally that I experience such responses as a kind of moral cowardice. I have no need to defend my book or explain its contents. When you mine for gold, digging produces slag, detritus. When you explore the heart of darkness, you make things messy and muddied, conflictual, and, for these days’ weak-minded readers, aggravating and annoying. However, it is the search that always counts. My mind wanders back to 1958 to a Contemporary Civilization course at Queens College. The instructor began to speak about Karl Marx, and one of the undergrad women got upset with the mere mention of his name. The teacher went up to her seat and said, “Karl Marx … Karl Marx … Karl Marx … Karl Marx” in an attempt to desensitize the student, I imagine, to the very sound of the name. And so it is with mentioning the Holocaust.

When I receive these responses, I feel soiled by human beings who want the Holocaust neatly wrapped up, literally ended or tidied up – or just not written about at all. Underneath is a need to be safe. And my Jewish brethren are as guilty as anyone else. It is the dark and nether consequence of resistance to put out of conscious mind what is nettlesome, frightening, scary, and personally repulsive to bear under the scrutiny of awareness.

In short, it comes down to fear. I wrote in another context that fearlessness leads to authenticity in writing. I stand by that. I am so old that authenticity in living is still a vital principle to live by or struggle to attain. And when I come across prissy responses to my book I don’t relate to them well, for they are foreign to me. I’m naïvely taken aback that people don’t want to see, and yet I spent years dealing with the unsaid in my clients. So, I have determined that if my book is to be read I must give it away, which I am doing in certain cases: to Holocaust museums and centers, Holocaust studies programs, instructors, and the like. After all, I am into sharing what I own and what I feel and what I can write about without an inordinate concern about marketing and making royalties.

Apparently, any book on the Holocaust nowadays, like the Jews in the 1940s, is met with indifference. Ho-hum is the response. An ennui has settled in and, like a miasmic swamp, occludes efforts to understand again and again what the Holocaust is. One of my lifelong learnings is that human beings are a shabby lot. I have no expectations of man because my own fellow man lacks the slightest realistic expectation of himself, except to make money and fuck. Kazantzakis said it well on his epitaph: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

I may like to get bruised or kicked in the ass, to perseverate in this agony, or I don’t really give a damn. I do have a measure of hope. I hand out my book for free, like a business card, just to share: “Hey, brother, I can spare a dime.” To be read is all that I require; to be asked a question is a wonderful chakra, something to behold. It is the teacher in me. At my age I experience what Erickson called “generativity,” the need to give what wisdom one has attained to the young or to those who are willing listeners.

And there is also the asbestos-like silence. I have mailed out over one thousand queries, and more than a handful to reviewers who have read my earlier works. And they don’t nibble at all. In my imagination they feel not to reply is not to be involved with a foul subject, or one that makes them shudder, equivocate, or flee; whatever, the motivation what I am left with is silence from previous supporters.

It is deafening. You might label this “Holocaust aversion.” Human beings rarely ever face what they are capable of, something evident in the long-lingering dislike of Freud. Some “well-meant” individuals want to protect survivors from the very horrors they have experienced. How self-servingly odd.

In education, reading readiness, if I recall correctly, has to do with the child’s ability at a certain age and grade to be introduced to reading or to another level of reading. I suspect Holocaustphobes are not “ready.” Many of us cannot advance beyond Anne Frank’s outside-the-concentration-camp experience. (More than a few historians feel that Anne Frank’s diary is not part of Holocaust literature.)

Psychologically, many human beings suffer, with regard to the Holocaust, from arrested development. I have let out the genie from my powder keg. A writer can never control the consequences of what he says in print, the misinterpretations, the misunderstandings, or the lack of nuanced reading. Henry Thoreau, when Margaret Fuller read your “The Service” for The Dial, she complained, “I cannot read it through without pain.”

I also sense that I have touched upon several taboos. I am well aware that I rarely censor myself or hold back what I have to say. That is, I don’t send my work out to the cleaners. I am not a safe person to be around, in any case. Some people cover holes with stones; I unearth them for a look-see, call it characterological.


Mary Jane Ansell visual art

Ansell lives and works in the UK. Visit her site here.


The Bones of You

Solstice II

Shadow of the Seventh


Treasury of Souls

A Question of Balance

Liberty Sleeping

David Aronson visual art

Read Aronson’s SubtleTea interview here.
Visit his official website here.



Moon Goddess


The Book


Black & White 2


Penis Envy

Gothic Romance

Adams Carvalho illustrations

Carvalho lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Visit his site here.

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Untitled 56

Untitled 282

Untitled 150

David Herrle interviews David Aronson, visual artist

A painting called Looking Glass was my first exposure to David Aronson’s splendid work, and it hooked me immediately. His intense, diverse, irreverent, grotesque, erotic and often wacky art shares the heft and energy of, say, Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Felicien Rops, Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington, Schiele, Otto Dix, Francis Bacon, Mucha and (as Aronson himself specifies) Remedios Varo. Stylish/spiritual/tonal comparisons also include Aubrey Beardsley, Peter Chung, fetish-artist Michael Manning, Escher, John Tenniel, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Martin Ander, maybe even a little Terry Gilliam. However, Aronson’s stuff is fundamentally Aronsonian, and behind what he shows there is much to say. (See more of his art here and visit his official site here.)

Looking Glass

HERRLE: In Catching the Big Fish David Lynch insists that “the more the artist is suffering, the less creative he is going to be,” but he admits that time and freedom from distractions are needed for art to thrive. Inverting this, Man Ray blames artists’ suffering on the inability to escape “all social constraint,” and funambulist/magician Philippe Petit says that lack of control of the creative process “equals human death.” What do you think?

ARONSON: I don’t really adhere to any one theory of what stimulates creativity or what is necessary to be an artist. I can see, and agree with, the point of view of all three artists you cited. Artists, like people in general, are quite diverse. Everyone has their own reasons for making art and process for doing so. I think creativity is useful for everyone, no matter what form it takes. Using one’s creativity allows a connection between personal energy and universal energy – the energy that created all and lies within all of creation.

Man Ray was a Surrealist and escaping social constraint was part of [the Surrealists’] manifesto. This is something that I strive for as well. It leads to more interesting, unique and powerful art. I also strive to escape the constraints of my conscious mind. Allowing images to arise spontaneously from the subconscious is something else I have in common with the Surrealists.

David Lynch doesn’t see the value of suffering, but I have personally found that periods of suffering, throughout the course of my life, have triggered great outpourings of art and creativity. My work is often cathartic, so that makes sense for me, but not necessarily everyone. If you see a “lack of creativity” as meaning that one feels that their life is out of their control, then I could see that as a form of “human death,” a death of the soul and of one’s will.

HERRLE: On your website’s biography page you are referred to as an “ascetic hedonist,” an oxymoronic/paradoxical term that accords with your apparent humor and tendency to present, to use your bio’s words, “unusual juxtapositions.” What are your thoughts on the ascetic and the hedonic – and on artistic visual/thematic mélange?

ARONSON: At different times in my life I have lived in an ascetic manner and in a hedonistic manner. Eventually, I learned to let those two polarities to co-exist. The reconciliation of conflicting opposites is one of the main themes of my work, both artistically and in the healing work that I do. (I am a certified hypnotherapist, Integrated Energy Therapy master, and professional astrologer and tarot reader.) In alchemy, the stage where opposing forces are joined is known as the alchemical wedding. Hence the name of my site and of my artistic identity as well. I have a tattoo that I designed covering my right upper arm depicting the alchemical wedding. On a more mundane level, I find that unusual juxtapositions in my art, presented in a way that implies a narrative, are more interesting and stimulate people’s imaginations and pull them into the world of the image, rather than just looking at the surface. I’m a big fan of visual mélange for the reasons I just stated.  Combining images that have never been combined before can lead to powerful, thought-provoking and enigmatic art.

HERRLE: The female body (particularly the nude one) still reigns as the primary symbol/locus of sensual beauty and the persistent idolatry in Western aesthetics since the waning of the ephebophilic Greeks and andromaniacal Michelangelo. However, PC erotophobes rage against “objectification” – though, as Camille Paglia says, all art objectifies. As someone who obviously delights in the female form, tell us your thoughts on erotic beauty, female portrayal and such. Isn’t this all power rather than detriment?

ARONSON: Yes, it’s true that I love the female body, but I actually love drawing all bodies: male, female, young, old, beautiful and deformed.  The human body is almost always at the center of my work. I don’t do landscapes, because they always look to me like a backdrop waiting for some people to come along and do something. The body is sensual in a way that combines the physical and the spiritual. Nudity does not equal pornography. Nude women do not equal sexism or misogyny. I tend to avoid these kinds of political arguments, because people become very entrenched in their points of view, and a true dialogue is rare. I do believe that artists should have the right to portray whatever they want in their art, and people also have the right to refrain from looking at it or exhibiting it.  Images are the language of the subconscious, and all of the debates and histrionics about art that have been going on for centuries seem to point to the power of images and the desire for people to control that power.

Then there is also the undercurrent of puritanism which I feel still pervades this country, creating a lack of comfort with sexuality, physicality and the celebration of the body. Another reason I avoid these debates is because I find them a bit ridiculous. Is a picture of a gun more acceptable than a picture of a nude woman? Both are a part of life. When you start dictating what is or isn’t acceptable as a subject for art, then you are hiding from part of life. An extreme example of this is found in Islam and Orthodox Judaism, where art is not allowed to portray the physical world in a realistic manner. I am an art teacher and in one of my children’s classes, a Muslim woman told me that her daughter was only allowed to portray geometric forms. I told her that I couldn’t teach her daughter how to paint or draw if she was not allowed to examine the world around her. Drawing and painting create a kind of communion with the world and if you can’t see the beauty of creation, then I feel sorry for you, but don’t try to tell me what to draw.

HERRLE: Defiant against shameful bush inhibition or erasure, I think full – even unkempt – pubic hair is female genitalia’s best bedding: the wild tufts of Schiele or Delvaux, Courbet’s Origin of the World. Your depictions of females feature both the bushy and the bald, but do you have a preference?

ARONSON: I’ve always love drawing (and looking at) hair, but hair can obscure the beautiful folds and forms of the female genitalia, so I guess I have no strong preference one way or the other.

HERRLE: Many of your splendid illustrations are comic book-/cartoon-like. Have you any favorite comics books, comic artists/writers, cartoonists?

ARONSON: Comic Books were my first love and my first inspiration. I collected them when I was a kid and had thousands.  I sold them all when I was 13, but their influence on my work was already permanently in place. As a child, my favorite artists were Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Jack Kirby, Mike Ploog, John Buscema, Joe Kubert, Basil Wolverton, Gil Kane, and many, many others. When I was 13, I discovered Heavy Metal magazine and underground comics. Then I was in love with Moebius, Robert Crumb, Richard Corben, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Caza, Nicole Claveloux, and – again – many, many more. The explosion of indie/alternative comics in the 1990s brought me Charles Burns, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Chris Ware, Dave Cooper, and of course, many, many others. I also fell in love with [Neil Gaiman’s] The Sandman, The Invisibles and just about everything Vertigo ever put out. If I sat down and thought about it, I could come up with a list of hundreds of names. I still follow comics, both indie and mainstream. I do find some of them very readable but I accumulate them mainly for the artwork.

HERRLE: In a recent Rolling Stone interview with Jan Wenner, U2’s Bono said, “American is an idea, and it’s a great idea. We want you, it, to succeed, which is why we become fucking obnoxious and shoot our mouths off about it.” This jibes with your “Letter to America” poem, from which this excerpt comes:

I’m so fucking angry at you, America!
You could be the brightest star
of this civilization,
a shining example for all to follow,
but you fumble and drop the ball
and end up with a mouth full of astroturf
time and time again…

 …But I also love you, America,
because you have your sights set on
the highest mountain top.
You want to build a ladder to heaven.
You’re a dizzy-eyed, spirit-intoxicated prophet,
willing to die to free the enslaved and the oppressed,
and ready to set yourself on fire
for what is right and true and just!

Right on. Though bratty ungratefulness is foolish, constructive vigilance is crucial. Tell us more about your complex regard for the U.S. Can this nation still live up to being “essentially the greatest poem,” as Walt Whitman considered it?

ARONSON: Wow. Well, that’s a big can of worms, considering who’s in the White House. I wrote that poem during the second Bush administration, and my feelings are still the same. I see the horrible things done by the government and the power elite, but then I see the passion for justice and just plain goodness in ordinary people. Being a Sagittarius, I have a natural optimism that I fall back on as a default. To be honest, I have been ignoring politics as much as possible since last November. I guess I agree with Bono. I want people to live up to the ideals of the founding fathers, but there is so much greed and indifference, that becoming the visionary idea of America seems impossible at times. I’m hoping that Trump is the nadir and that we have nowhere to go from here but up. And I also hope people learn from this ridiculous farce of an administration and make wiser choices in the future.

HERRLE: In “I’m Not a Self-Hating Jew; I’m Just a Jew Who Hates Other Jews” you blast both collectivism’s subsuming nature and mass reformism’s dehumanizing tendency, recalling your parents immersion in The Schecter Reconstructionists. In their wish “to overturn everything and create a brave new world,” you say that they neglected “the law of nature” (the lesson of A Clockwork Orange). You prefer to “take people on an individual basis,” discounting ancestry’s overrated gravity, which I find redemptive. Tell us about your aversion to tribalism, skepticism against utopia and abstention from the Abrahamic “chosen.”

ARONSON: I have never been a follower. I tried my best to fit in, but it never worked. I tried and tried and as time went on, I realized that it would never happen, and that was very freeing. I could finally be myself. I have been a member of a group here and there as an adult, but I’m still on the sidelines, never becoming a devotee or true believer. I recently had my eyes opened by a book called The Invention of the Jewish People. Its premise is that the religion of Judaism, rather than the Jews themselves, was what spread throughout Europe and Northern Africa during the Diaspora. Therefore, Jews are not a unified ethnic group. I’ve always suspected this, even as a child, but being a good member of the tribe is the guilt they use to hold on to you.

I also recently discovered the Khazar empire or Khazaria. This was an empire that existed in between Turkey and Kazakhstan. In the 9th century the entire population converted from their pagan religion to Judaism for political reasons. When the empire was conquered, the people moved into Eastern Europe, and then to America at the turn of the last century. Most American Jews are descended from the Khazars and actually have no genetic connection with the Jews of the Bible. Once again, this was incredibly freeing for me. It meant that I could renounce Judaism the way an Irishman could denounce Catholicism. Being Jewish was not “in my blood.” Hooray! Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a member of a religion and it helps you to be a better person, I’m behind you 100%. But my life experiences (as well as historical knowledge) have completely turned me off to organized religion.

HERRLE: Your affecting Holocaust Series includes the plight of the Native Americans, which is something I separate, along with the Atlantic slave trade, from what I consider the only Holocaust. I side with philosopher Andre Neher’s belief in its essential incomparability. Jew’s existence was the Nazis’ (non-political/non-religious/non-colonial) extermination reason. To your Why Us? piece the answer is “Because you are.” Do pogromic urges (other than Islamist judenhass) simmer around the globe? Am I wrong to isolate Auschwitz et al from other odious eras?

ARONSON: I see your point of view about the Holocaust and far be it from me to tell you or anyone how to think about it. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s pain. There have been many, many large-scale atrocities throughout human history and all of them make me want to cry. I did the Holocaust series for selfish reasons. I was trying to get in touch with and purge personal feelings of persecution and victimization that came from the twisted way that being a Jew was presented to me as a child. I never dreamed that so many people would be moved by it. I wish I had put more time into the series. Some of the images are weak or hurried.

As far as anti-Semitism around the world, I think it will always be there. Like all racism, a lot of it has gone underground. As primates, we’re hard-wired to think “my tribe good, your tribe bad,” but only when we’re using our reptile and/or mammal brains rather than our human brain (I’m referring to the three-brain model. You can look it up if interested.) The human part of the brain, the neo-cortex, is the newest and smallest part of the brain which explains a lot about human behavior. I highly recommend the book The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. This book gave me a profound understanding of human nature, good and bad. The human need to always have a scapegoat I call “the Sneetch syndrome,” after the story by Dr. Seuss. Ultimately, I think it’s going to take a huge leap in human evolution to finally be free of racism and see ourselves as earthlings before anything else.

HERRLE: There’s a brutal sense of mortality in your work, and you refer to history as a “nightmare.” Japanese poet Issa says that we walk on hell’s flower-covered roof, but G.K. Chesterton warns us not to mistake the siege on the citadel as the citadel itself. Is pessimism reasonable? Despite atrocity, crime, disease and death, have you any belief in teleology, salvation, hope – God?

ARONSON: I am a mystic. I have had many experiences that showed me the unity of all living things as well as the creative intelligence that it springs from and was created by and continues to be created in every moment. This is what I call God. We live in a world of dualities and I have learned not to shy away from the darker aspects of life, but rather confront them and accept them, thereby transforming them. This is part of alchemy; the great work. My work contains dualities. I show the dark and I show the light and I show their dance with each other. So yes, I do believe in teleology, salvation, hope. I am neither a pessimist nor a nihilist. Underneath everything, at the deepest level, I am a healer and engaged in Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world.