The Paris Review

The Poet Upstairs

Avigdor Arikha, “Anne in Summer,” 1980

We call her Upstairs; she calls us Downstairs.

From our ground-floor apartment in Paris, my husband and I can look across the courtyard to her apartment on the top floor, with its large, curved windows.

“Downstairs,” she writes, “before drawing the curtain for the night, stepped out on the balcony, and saw your light on; which was good news.”

Each message from her is a treasure: “When next we meet, we’ll salute each other like two lamp-posts, lighting up at the same time. Have a lovely day without rain.”

She tells us often that we live in a village. She says that’s a lucky thing. She has a way of molding the mundane into harmony, of living in music.

“Look at me walk,” she says, and sets off singing to the rhythm of her walking stick. “Un, deux, trois. Un, deux, trois.”

She rhymes when she jokes, recites poems out of the blue, as if she had the lines flowing through her without cease.

One morning, when we run into her at the Saturday market, she tells us she’s been reading the phone book and that it made her cry. “All those names,” she says.

This is our neighbor, the poet Anne Atik.

Over the years, living in the same square, we’ve established a routine. She comes down; we go up. We have dinner; we listen to music. We all arrive with poems to read.

Even before we made this a ritual, Anne would share poems with us—never her own but ones she knew by heart

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