Day 3 Madrid

by Adam Berlin

In the Thyssen Museum, portraits of the patrons 3-life-sizes big, Senor and Senora, Spanish Os and As, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, we walk 1 floor together (3 of us) then it’s impossible so Katherine goes first while I carry him under a construction awning a long-avenue long not blue-painted like ones in Manhattan where I do pull-ups

(5 sets, 15 each)

(vertical counting)

after running. We walk to the end and back, end and back (horizontal counting), HOLDY, our cheeks touching, his skin like his breath like his eyes an inhale of everything and not just the first words that came. He’s watching. He doesn’t need this museum, confine and frames, when OUTSIDE all’s plausible, possible, weightlessly colorful and then it’s my turn to look inside and his arms go to her, MOMMY, HOLDY, transfer made, 2 to 1.


I stop at Hopper’s Hotel Room,

stop at the story: woman alone,

blank space around,

rectangles of white,

rectangles of yellow,

then almost part

of the frame blue,

a column pressing in

like the letter

she’s reading

and there’s space

here, not Prado-crowded,

so I see his space

and where he put the paint,

where it’s thickest, where a line

isn’t really a line, and I see the painter alone,

filling in when the model leaves.

Hotel Room by Edward Hopper. Oil on canvas, 1931.

I stand for artists, hold positions, listening (moves time faster)—charcoal sketch sounds (creche/creche/crush), paint brush sounds cross canvas, bristles catching—and after what wasn’t there is.


I stay close to Hopper’s painting,



then close to 1 Degas,

we saw his work in Giverny, our first real trip driving kms in northern France, not impressed with Monet’s lilies, garden, house, but impressed with Degas, who did more than dancers,


then close to Winslow Homer,

men against wind,

look for revision in brushstrokes.


I’ll sit 10-hour shifts revising, almost no food, almost no moving, the after-part. What I’m doing (now) (will do) for 4 weeks and many kms (pronounced kims): write in Notes (in hotel rooms), words, lines, what I’ve seen, what I’m seeing, done like the last line in Sex Without Love: against my own best time (blank space around).


Write the hardest 1 there is to write. That’s David in The Garden of Eden, preparing to write the hard story, which is really the hard part of the story, which is really the true part, the coming forward not like a fighter (not hands up), but hands down, un-protected, hard-parted, which in Hemingway’s novel (posthumously published so don’t blame him) is about writing, which touches breathless, which I don’t think he knew very well, not really, except the unrequited kind, The Sun Also Rises kind, Jake’s cock-shot-off-in-the-war kind, perfect scenario for unrequited, and in mine, The Number of Missing (blame me), its grief from new war, for (he, me) a friend killed and for (her) a dead husband so she waits, drinks, drunks, must fall all the way before she’s with the 1 that’s me, alcohol all over, not Pamplona-joyous but smell of spilled Manhattan, whiskey, maraschino, too-red stem and he (my character), me, out too much, pretty to think so, sad laughing in pillow, but the hard part, the hard parts he wrote, hands down, before The Garden of Eden (hands up, too much thinking) (innocence-irony too easy), a title with the same meter as Sun Also but not the right sound.


Meta note: Hemingway’s story The Killers inspired Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

rectangles of yellow

rectangles of blue

pillars holding glass


Meta note 2:  I’m using Hem here because (not a poetic word) like Huck Finn before (Papa said so), he’s 1 big marker in pushing lit. Hem’s voice, his nouns (my son/all kids speaks nouns), started more-modern, what every writer uses now or (aware) doesn’t. How spare, how stark, how attentive to real, all conscious choices, even if he warned off poetry in prose, obvious somersaults in walking, running, fighting (straight punches land first), writing (with subtext), and forget his personality, his demographic, his unconscionable flaws (like actors and athletes probably shouldn’t talk), that’s what his writer does, his character writer, he writes the hard part (that’s what he/Hemingway tells us), writes it real, REAL, REALLY (this is me, not my son) (not nouns).


For this trip I’m writing on my phone— on the plane watching or watching kms of scenery from the train or watching sitting with a beer, Mahou por favor, or in hotel rooms. It’s hard to shove your finger down your throat when you’re not sick, really, an image for before-it-starts. And so far I start, just start, like them, these painters (I’m still in/near the museum) I’m guessing, with their work on the walls in these rooms with space, like the 2 of us now, me, Eben, starting another long-avenue lap, OUTSIDE, like the 2 of us for 3 years, me and Katherine. 3 months after we met, she was pregnant. 6 months after she was pregnant, we looked at Degas’ paintings not just of dancers.


You get it down before it goes and it will go, the exactness of it. The not coming back should be enough motivation, enough for everything, really.


she’s reading

and there’s space

Hopper’s Hotel Room


We walk to the hotel. HOTEL, HOLDY. You’re heavy, I tell him. HEAVY.


The balcony looks sunset west, building-framed pinks, and around

the curve I can’t see, never revised, a constant forward, even if it’s cyclical,

new day, new day, new day, new day, new day, new day (make this line visually long), new

like first words, like running (Sharon Olds’ image), always forward,


not like pull-ups (my image)

off blue-painted scaffolds

or a column

pressing in

like the letter

she’s reading




Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, including Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY in NYC and co-edits the litmag J Journal: New Writing on Justice.

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