An Out-Of-Bounds Essay

I Love to Think of Those Naked Epochs
~ Baudelaire
One night in Paris, my wife and I took a small room on the top floor of a hotel just off the boulevard St-Michel. It was an odd little room—no right angles anywhere, every wall of a different surface, stone, brick, plaster, paper. The furniture was Typical Hideous. But the furnishings did not matter. What mattered was that the room came cheap. And that my wife and I could lie in the bed and look out over a squabble of rooftops, chimneys, antennae, sky. And that I could turn the desk around into the window-niche and sit up late making notes in my journal, looking down into the courtyard, into the windows of my neighbors.

For a while, light enough to write by came down from the sky. Later I burned a candle. The desk created a little room of its own, at the edge between interiority and exteriority. I could feel the warmth of our room at my back, and, through the open window, the cool air of the evening on my face. On the roof-garden opposite, a young man in a flowered housecoat watered some plants, then stooped to pick up a cat. Behind one window, an old man sat before an easel, a dog napping at his feet. In another, shadows slow-danced behind a thin muslin curtain. The quarter is very old. It reminds me that everything has happened before. St Germain-des-Pres was overrun by Nazis, and yet it has survived to be beautiful once again, flowers tumbling in profusion from its iron balustrades.

So. An hour or two of composition. A time of deep stillness, into which the stars cast their tiny bolts of love. Then, a walk down among the crowds in the streets. Dinner in a Japanese restaurant on the rue St-Séverin, with fresh flowers in a little vase on our table, and the singular flame of a white tea candle. Then out into the crowds again, pausing to look at the dubious talents on display near the Metro—a man carving canaries out of carrots, a man putting out cigarettes on his palm. Come the morning, we would wander out into all the rain-bright colors of autumn, which arrived as we slept. Clouds bunching up on the horizon. A sharpness to the air. Brown crabby leaves blowing down on the sandy square of St-Sulplice, looking like Rilke’s “cheap winter bonnets of Fate.”

© Frederick Smock, Louisville, KY

The “Out-of-Bounds Essay” is a unique feature that appears regularly in The Bloomsbury Review. Each is an imaginary work of nonfiction, out-of-bounds only in the sense that they are not necessarily tied to anything specific in the magazine, neither tied to a review, an interview, nor a pre-determined editorial theme. If it should, it is the beauty of serendipity at play only. One of our long-time contributing editors, Reamy Jansen, oversees and edits the feature, asking his essayists for “fresh, offbeat, nonfiction prose that assays boundaries of fiction/nonfiction,” encouraging the writer to “even leap over” those boundaries, if she or he will. The single caveat is “no more than 300 words.” The Out-of-Bounds Essay is simply the literary equivalent of a musical prelude—a short work that ideally takes the reader on a small journey into what Emily Dickinson would call in her singular way, a “revery.”

We will be placing more of these rare-cut gems on the blog in the future. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy sharing them with you.

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