Alexander Booth: from “Insulae”

Harry Gruyaert, Tokyo, 1996. Source: magnumphotos.com

At least one of the panes in the warped and brittle frame was cracked enough to need a newspaper. You never bothered to replace it. From the desk, you looked across a small patch of gravel at another rowhouse, another upstairs window. Sometimes, a face would appear between the curtains, then vanish. You didn’t know it, but just a few years before a poet had died just a few doors up the street. The Greek Revival is brittle, and brick. The room is yellow and small and has a ceiling fan. On the wall, there’s a thriftstore reproduction of Goya’s little boy in red with all his birds and cats, next to him, a postcard of a coffin.


That June was extremely hot. You’d just recently moved out and into a basement apartment. All the official things would take a few years. The building was older, from when the area was still the country. Mornings were a manic sound of children, days a high-pitched whine of scooters and the drone of a dehumidifier. There wasn’t much light, but a large bed, a wardrobe, and a chest-of-drawers. On top of a moving box an old Einaudi of Pavese shorts. The café on the corner had bottled beer and it wasn’t far to the park, which is where you spent your time, watching the swallows, the dust, and, when there were any, the clouds. “La bella estate”. At night you’d lie awake, the air full of jasmine and cats. Must. You ended up staying through autumn.