Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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JANUARY 9, 2011 9:17PM

To Monsieur O., Who Lived Here Before Us

Rate: 16 Flag

Unpeeling your wallpaper

feels a bit like

unravelling your finished life.

I pull off another strip

and wonder

who helped you paste up these dull mauve motifs?

Was it the nephew

who was too full of grief

to collect your furniture when you died?

We still have your crucifix.

Your couch and step-stool witness the changing walls.

I spray solution

and scrape

and ask what you did to change this place?

Was the green bathroom your idea?

If so, why the mauve paper here?

And the brown wood kitchen

- but in that, you're definitely a victim of your time.

The paper falls in whirls

and then irregularly-shaped damp scraps.

They descend with pulpy weight and drape themselves

around your former step-stool's legs.

Then slowly dry, crisp like the pages of a book.

A mystery.

Perhaps also a biography.


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I spent my weekend preparing our living room for repainting. This, and clothes covered in paste and plaster dust, are the result.
Written after a weekend spent preparing our living room for a new paint job.
In 1996 we had a house fire that almost gutted the three foot wall stone house.
The restoration company tore the layers of wallpaper that had been there since 1867. Layers and layers of life that will be never answered yet pondered for years to come.
No mauve though..:)
rated with hugs
Oh, what we cover up when we clean and freshen up! R
Great poem, Alysa. Lots of pun intended. -R-
Beautiful, Alysa. Thanks for this.
I hope your taste & color scheme are better! (How about before & after photos?)
Lovely prose and interesting questions.
"Then slowly dry, crisp like the pages of a book.
A mystery.
Perhaps also a biography."

I love this, Alysa! Those are my favorite lines. Bon chance with your paint job.
funny, i left a comment earlier, but it did not "take" apparently. ah well, thanks for the glimpse into the workings of your mind.
You turned a messy job into a lovely poetic reflection. There is nothing like a freshly painted room. Enjoy!
Thanks for the comments, everyone! I went to bed very late last night and didn't have time to answer, and now I see so many kind words.

Linda - How moving. And how cool you got to see wallpaper from 1867! Our apartment dates to the 1930's, but the people here before us ripped off most of the original wallpaper, it seems, because I'd also been hoping we'd see more. I'm glad you got to have that experience.

Natalie - So, so true!

Christine - Thank you - and even if the pun was intended, I love puns, so thanks for that, too!

tea - Thank you for reading and for your kindness.

Myriad - I never thought to do an official "before" photo but luckily there are a lot of pictures of us and friends, etc, there. I will probably do an after - if I survive the chore of painting!

Fusun - I'm glad you like them. I found the ending tricky and had to play around with it, even though that's one of the first things that came to mind as I started taking the wallpaper off.

Mypsyche - Thank you!

dianaani - Thank you for coming back and leaving the comment. I really appreciate your kind words.

maryway - Thank you! I think I'll enjoy, once we get the thing finished!
All so true. I used to hang wallpaper and you would wonder what was in the mine of the people who put it up, ugly or not. They are all someones memories!
think about this, those last few lines, mimic life and its decadence, not by chance, but images find a way to assert themselves

thank you
I love how immediate and real this feels--I've always been fascinated by old houses and the traces they hold of earlier times and people.
I like this Alysa: very tactile & visual. Perhaps Monsieur O. was color blind? Or like my grandfather: if he had it he'd use it whether it matched or not. (r)
scanner - That must have been a very interesting job! All the things you could learn about people's tastes, and guess about their lives!

vanessa - Thank you. Those lines just came to me and sort of kick-started the poem.

Felicia - It really is a way people leave something behind. I'm glad you're as intrigued by this type of thing as I am.

dirndl - Hmm...I like that last theory, at least as far as the living room is concerned. The bathroom seems to have been deliberately done, because he bought extra tiles for it that are in a small storage space below the bathtub. It's sad that we'll never know what this guy's plans were for the decor....

Thanks for reading and commenting everyone, and sorry it took me so long to reply!