A City Girl On Country Time

Fashionable afro woman visiting the colorful Burano, a small island of Venice, Italy.

We’re alone, Patrick and I, in a three-story house an hour outside of Naples, Italy. In Tufo, Italy. It took us one taxi and two buses to get here. We don’t date, we don’t have sex either, but it’s just us two and myself, alone, in the honeymoon suite.

Last night I asked Patrick, “Do you enjoy sleeping in the basement, alone?”

He replied, “Yes, it’s like my room.”

I asked because I was afraid of sleeping alone on the second floor, the two other rooms unoccupied. Patrick sleeps or writes, and I clean or shower or read or write like, I’m doing now. Patrick cooks too and he is quite good at it. He asked me if I can cook, and I can’t. I’m sure he remembered because before I could get out my “No,” he offered to teach me some easy dishes that I won’t cook ever again once I’ve left here. Maybe I will when I come back next year if I care to remember. But, the kitchen is our favorite room.


I cleaned the shower the day I arrived. The proprietress advised him last year to spray the bathroom with disinfectant daily or throughout the day or else it would begin to smell. When I arrived yesterday it smelled, he must have forgotten but I remembered. I remember everything pretty much, so I sprayed down the shower and the sink, the toilet, the kitchen countertops, and the kitchen sink and faucet. I get into fits of cleaning, only on my own time though. I used to tell that to my mom, she’d use it against me. I only clean when I feel like it, she would say, and she was right.

I’m a writer here, with Patrick who is a writer except he has got lots to show for it unlike myself. I tell people I’m a writer and hope that they take my word for it. Whenever I look out of the window here I blink a few times, thinking this picture-perfect landscape may blink away but it doesn’t. I was staring myself down, undressed, in the mirror that faces the balcony distracted by the green, too green to be real. I look at myself to see if I have changed in the days that I’ve been here, eating all the foods I’ve restricted myself from for the past three months. I’m not anorexic, I don’t think but I’m obsessed with my weight. I’m obsessed with myself. My first go-around in college, I joked that I was drunkorexic. I was twenty in a relationship and I would not eat the entire day. I’d wait until the night to start drinking, and in the stupor fall asleep and repeat the day after. Anorexics want to be skinny, I don’t.


We Eat
I’ve got a tummy full, and kicking with meats, nuts, and
dogs that bark at parked cars in daylight when it’s clear
that they aren’t moving.
And cars that fit in the pockets of alleyways
hidden behind narrow streets
on the backend
of dead ends
and pass through only a little less than effortlessly
My tummy aches with mountains that border
small towns of less than 3000 people
Who are no different
but all the different
from those a short car ride to the other side
or just around the curve.


Last night I thought to myself, This is a family’s home but not mine. It’s hardly Patrick’s, as far removed as he is. But the house treats me like family all the same. So does the town that can’t understand me, and so does Patrick who isn’t dating me but I can tell that he likes me, as a person most definitely, as more I’m not sure. I know he thinks I’m cool because he used my name in a story about his time, our time, in Tufo last year that he made up when he could have used any name. All guys like me pretty much because I’ve mastered instantaneous likability. Guys hate having to make an effort to like a girl, I’ve found. That’s why some girls like me too. I like everyone back because it makes things more interesting. It always makes for a better story in the end when the likeliness is reciprocated and you have to decide who stopped liking who first. I like myself mostly and I like it when people like me so really it’s my own game that I play. I get people to like me, I get myself to like them back, that makes me like myself more; and whoever stops liking me first wins. Or loses.

Anthony, an Italian from my last job who liked me a lot, asked me what I was going to write about in Italy. Myself. He liked that I was honest. Perhaps my obsession with myself makes people curious. What can she possibly like about herself that much? they wonder, so they join me to find out. The guys that like me are all the same. I know what I like. Here, the men sing to me as I pass “bella bella belissima”, and the men themselves are just as beautiful, if not more.

This year, I’ve sneezed three times. Once yesterday when Gracie administered my blessings and twice in a row today at the top of the staircase. Patrick blessed me then. Last year I sneezed a bunch, so the absence of my allergies tells me that this year I am certainly supposed to be here. The sound of my own thoughts echoes in Tufo because here I’m the only one thinking them. In Los Angeles we all think along the same sorts, though we try not to or claim we don’t. I wrote around 100 essays last school year and quit my job before I arrived. I wanted a new take on my thoughts.


City Girl
Country Time
Sips lemonade
under growing vines.
Love of bread and wine
and pasta


In Monopoli, Italy in a bed and breakfast, after a long night of drinking and after a 2-hour car ride from our small stay away, Patrick asked me to have his child. He said, “That way you could inherit my house.” I love the house that I already call “ours” that is tucked away in a town that is smaller than my gentrified neighborhood at home. The home that is surrounded by green, too green. Patrick writes, and I’ve dated a writer before, so I am less interested in them now. I just wished they’d write more about me, but Patrick’s mention of my name in his made-up story is a start.

We Create
It is not too often that art can thrive deprived of easels,
without canvas or paint, and still exist
to seed a growing garden in the height of summer.
If ever I could bear a love like this to full term
I’d rear it with the lessons I learned sitting on the steps
listening to the quiet rivers hum in the afternoon.


Here in Tufo, Patrick introduces me as “poetessa” and it feels almost real. It feels as if when I leave Tufo, I will crawl back into my bed in Los Angeles, close my eyes, and awake a poet forever.

Mama mia, I say, Mama Mia, they will call me.



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Kelana Celine Johnson

Kelana Celine Johnson is currently an MFA in Poetry candidate at Mills
College in Oakland, CA where she currently resides. Born and raised in Los
Angeles, CA has inspired and instilled a strong sense of culture and
strength within her. In 2014 Kelana was a Prague Summer Program for Writers Resident, which not only solidified her purpose as a writer but also
sparked a love for traveling within her. In 2017 and 2018 submerged in the
Southern Italian countryside of Tufo, where she was a Writers in Tufo
resident, Kelana explored her writing talents across genres, topics, and
settings. Entering into her final year as an MFA candidate she has been
working to have inclusive and meaningful conversations with her literary