Photograph of a girl on a slum doorstep in 1912
Yes, she sits like that everyday.
Yes, she answers quickly when you speak.
Yes, she just got it recently, was diffident.
Yes, her mother told her to tie up rags to soak it up.
No, I think it is not her baby. I do not know
if it is the neighbour’s baby, her mother’s baby
or her niece or nephew. If someone
asks her regularly for help or thrust it
at her suddenly, here, I’ll be back soon
and left her sitting there, capably weighing
those starfish limbs, cynical young eyes.
Yes, she has shoes, but she does not
often wear them, why get them dirty when feet
stain far less easily, are easier to repair
when punctured or torn by stones, glass or wheels.
She does not waste anything, except herself.
Yes, she is pleased to have him take her picture,
that smile cannot be tricked out by anything
but real joy. No, no one has taken her picture
before this morning, but it did not trouble her.
Yes, I kept turning back and back
to this photograph, brought up short
like a stitch in the side by her fingers
clutching the baby-blanket so tight as if
the small wind will tear it away.
Published online March 01 2009.