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.
A woman who lives while the photograph lives.
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.
(Inspired by a photograph in Roman Vishniac’s A Vanished World)
Published in Fidelities XII, October 2005