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,
'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.
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.
Arja Salafranca is a fiction and non-fiction writer. has published three collections of poetry, A Life Stripped of Illusions, which received the Sanlam Award for poetry and The Fire in which we Burn. Her third poetry collection is Beyond Touch (Modjaji Books/Dye Hard Press 2015). This collection was the co-winner in the poetry category of the South African Literary Awards in 2016.
Her fiction has been published in local and international journals and anthologies, as well as online. Her debut collection of short fiction, The Thin Line, was published in 2010 (Modjaji Books).
Arja was a participant in the 2004 Online writer’s conference, the 2004 Writer’s Conference hosted by Centre of the Book and the Poetry Africa 2007 Festival, and the 2010 Women Writers Conference held by the Department of Arts and Culture. She participated in the Franschhoek Literary Festival in 2010, 2012 and again in 2014.
An anthology of prose and poetry, Glass Jars Among Trees, which she edited with the poet Alan Finlay, was published in 2003. She also edited an anthology of short fiction, The Edge of Things (Dye Hard Press, 2011).
She is the recipient of the 1994 and 1999 Sanlan Award, for poetry and fiction, and the 2010 DALRO poetry award for poetry. In 2010 she was shortlisted for the Thomas Pringle Award for a short story. In 2012 The Thin Line was longlisted for the Wole Soyinka Award. Most recently she has been longlisted for the 2016 Sol Plaatje EU Awards and Short Story Day Africa 2016 anthology.
She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Wits University.
She was the lifestyle and arts editor on The Sunday Independent from 2003 to 2016. She currently freelances as an editor, writer, writing tutor, and gives writing workshops in travel writing, among others. Her non-fiction collection of personal and travel essays is forthcoming from Modjaji Books in 2021.
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