Jan. 10, 2009

Recollection of Tranquility

by Idris Anderson

The first time we ever quarreled
you were cutting an onion
in the kitchen of our rented cottage.
I remember vividly. We were making creole
for a late night supper with champagne,
and you were taking it seemed forever
to cut the onion.
Each time your dull paring knife
chopped on the counter, I shifted my feet,
and I saw once in a glimpse over my shoulder
a white wedge of onion wobbling loose.
I sighed inaudibly. The butter I stirred
had already bubbled and browned.
I was starting over with a new yellow lump
that was slipping on the silver aluminum
when you brought, cupped in your hands,
the broken pieces, the edges all ragged,
the layers separated, bruised and oozing
cloudy white onion juice.
I complained:
the family recipe stated specifically,
the onion must be "finely chopped,"
for what I explained were very good reasons.
Otherwise, the pungent flavors would be trapped
irrevocably in the collapsed cellular structure
of the delicate root.

You sighed, I guess, inaudibly
and adjusted your glasses carefully
with two fingers (a fidget
I have since come to know
as a sign of mild perturbation)
and explained:
the pungence of onions too finely chopped
would be simmered away. The original sharp
burning crispness could be retained
only in fairly large, bite-sized chunks.
But you wouldn't fight tradition.
I chopped onion on the counter
with the dull knife, while you set the table
and figured the best way of popping the cork.

"Recollection of Tranquility" by Idris Anderson, from Mrs. Ramsay's Knee. © Utah State University Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1776 that an anonymous pamphlet was published, 46 pages long, in Philadelphia. The pamphlet was called "Common Sense." It explained why the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. It was easy to understand, it was popular, and it rallied many people for the revolutionary cause who had not been involved before they read it.

It was written by a man who had been born and raised in England and had come to America only about a year before. He had lost his job in England, his marriage had fallen apart, he wanted a new life. In London, he happened to meet Benjamin Franklin, who suggested he move to America. That man was Thomas Paine.

"Common Sense" sold 500,000 copies in its first year after publication, at a time when about two and a half million people lived in the 13 colonies. Thomas Paine donated all the royalties to George Washington's Continental Army.

It's the birthday of the poet Philip Levine, (books by this author) born in Detroit in 1928. He was working in an auto plant when he decided to write poems about the men working around him. He said, "I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them and that's what my life would be. And sure enough I've gone and done it."

It's the birthday of the poet Robinson Jeffers, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1887. He moved to the coast of California and built himself an observation tower with no electricity or plumbing. And from there, he looked out at the world and wrote his poems.

It's the birthday of historian Stephen E. Ambrose, (books by this author) born in Decatur, Illinois, in 1936. He wrote a biography of Dwight Eisenhower and many best-selling history books, including Band of Brothers (1992), about World War II.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »