roaming >> Poetry from Beyond Touch

These poems are from Beyond Touch,
Arja Salafranca’s third poetry collection, co-winner of the 2016 SALA Award for Poetry. It was published by Modjaji Books and Dye Hard Press

Pet shop in Málaga

 It’s the kittens in the window
 that draw us together, a grandmother with
 grandchildren, and me, passing through.
 We bend close, she shows the children
 the fluffy animals, and we all smile together,
 indulgently.
 'Bonita,' I say, and the woman’s face falls,
 just a fraction, it’s barely perceptible,
 A woman who lives while the photograph lives.
 but now she knows. I’ve opened up my mouth,
 revealed I’m an extranjera, a stranger.
 I’m one of them.
 She scurries away into the night,
 and I, too, move on. 
Wife of Nat Gutman, porter, Warsaw, 1938, from Roman Vishniac’s A Vanished World

Nat Gutman’s Wife

 (Inspired by a photograph in Roman Vishniac’s A Vanished World) 
 Nat Gutman's wife
 was twenty-six when this one was taken.
 She stares out at the stale crusts of bread
 and bits of herring that are supper tonight,
 and seems unable to resign herself.
 Her forehead is already deeply wrinkled,
 and there are brooding shadows beneath
 her eyes. She worries. Her beautiful, full lips
 are closed, settling into some expression
 she won’t like if she gets old.
 Nat Gutman’s wife looks at the stale bread,
 the bits of herring, and thinks of
 how to make it stretch.
 Today her child played in the street
 with a bandage wrapped from jaw to skull.
 Awakening at four with a toothache,
 she tied a bandage around the child’s head. The child
 cried with pain. There is no money for dentists,
 when your husband loses his job because he’s a Jew.
 The child is quiet now, waiting to eat its evening meal
 when darkness has fallen.
 Such are the markers of meal times
 when hunger is day long.
 Nat Gutman’s wife is worried,
 her world narrows down to a day,
 and perhaps the next, and the struggle
 to feed a family.
 Nat Gutman’s wife’s has lost her name
 in the photographer’s memory.
 She has a name, Nat Gutman’s wife,
 it’s hiding there, just beneath the heavy
 lidded eyes and the high cheekbones.
 Just beyond the frame.

You wake softly

You wake softly, against me,
 a soft sigh escapes from you
 as you welcome in a day,
 and a smile accents your lips.
 I kiss the parenthesis around your mouth.
 ‘No botox,’ you ask, playfully,
 as I carry on touching your years.
 It’s a kissing game, you smile, you’ve figured it out:
 who can get the last kiss in?
 Later, I let you run your finger
 along the scars on my breasts.
 Are you shy?
 The day’s light is like a mirror.
 Later, you will say, I like exploring your body with my hands.
 Later, I will watch as you rise out of bed,
 it’s afternoon now,
 your breasts small, still cupped by time,
 softly, gently, seeing you glide back into your clothes.  

Málaga, Spain
Photo: Arja Salafranca

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