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Amber Paulen

Monday to Friday

Monday: Waking, in a small town in the Jura, France. Sweet sunlight and luckily no hangover, grass clinging to my sweater from stargazing on my back the night before, and drinking. We breakfasted, then cleaned the country house, striped its beds and swept the floors; six adults make for a speedy team.

Our plane lifted off from Geneva, but first we had to deposit the rental car in a confusion of country borders: one part of the airport is in France, the other in Switzerland, strange. Always coming out of the metro at Colosseo and seeing that great old amphitheatre that welcomes me “home.” The Colosseum? home? And we opened the door to a happy black cat.

Tuesday: Work and writing and reading. For dinner: small fried fish and shrimp, heads and all.

Wednesday evening: A conversation with Marilyn Hacker, the poet, in Trastevere. A small woman with a great intellect sat at the front of a small audience talking. She said, “When I was eleven and was allowed to go to the museums alone…” And, “When I was four and a half I got my first library card…” New Yorker, I guess. She said, “Poetry is all about form.” When asked if she had any advice for burgeoning and aspiring and mostly failing poets, she responded, “Read and read and read, and it helps to learn another language.”

I attended that “conversation” with many thoughts, none sticking, about how I don’t know writing at all yet, or maybe I knew it better when I sat alone and wrote and thought nothing of what happens to the finished product. What happens to a finished story but return like a boomerang?—Ouch!—I thought about a secondhand quote from Anthony Doerr that said something like, “You’re going to get a sunburn on your neck if you look up too much.” I walked through Trastevere looking straight ahead. Step, step, ahead. Only I turned in at the bookstore to purchase a bag full of words: Names by Marilyn Hacker, In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut, The Progress of Love by Alice Munro. Research.

I opened the door to a happy black cat, my mind astir with words. We ate steak with zucchini for dinner.

Yesterday: June 2, Republic Day in Italy, holiday. The streets quieter than a Sunday, deserted, the open windows only letting in a breeze. I read Bastard Out of Carolina with my coffee. The tricolori tore like bass-deep wind above the apartment before lunchtime, streaming red, green and white exhaust, how patriotic!

Sweet lazy summer day, sweet summer rainfall, cool splashes on my arm like cool fingers, gelato on the walk to the Palazzo Esposizioni to see 100 Capolavori: Oh! Degas and Renoir and Delacroix and that massive portrait of Goethe by Tischbein, reclining on the ruins of Rome, the campagna behind him. The perfect number of paintings to view, a great collection! For dinner: pizza con pepperoni (i.e. roasted red peppers) and a movie.

Today: Half over. Half begun? I’m not so optimistic. To do: send some submissions, take a walk to Celimontana the park where I’ll listen to the bright green squawking of the nesting parakeets as I read: Bastard Out of Carolina, poems by Marilyn Hacker or Joseph Harrison, a short story by Alice Munro. Tonight for dinner? An evening stroll? Night by the Colosseum.

And I’m thinking still: stay looking straight ahead.


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