A neighbour by Rebecca Bilkau

A neighbour

Zahira, portrait in a window frame, practices stasis
and kinesis. As you approach, level, pass, the curve
of her back as she leans over the sill remains just so,

the tilt of her chin ditto. In winter, she’s backlit
by her kitchen’s strip light, her motionless head
with its oiled coil of plaits brighter than her eyes.

In summer the evening sun highlights the broken
planes of her face. This stillness. It could haunt you.
The pulse of one finger against her jugular notch,

up a hair’s breadth, down, invisible in all but
the tiny flick of a pale knuckle, is a mild comfort.
Sometimes it’s the index finger. Sometimes, another.

Once, the thumb. If the window’s frame wasn’t
empty mornings, you’d think she never went away,
that you’d imagined the warning behind the smile

in her eyes; that she knew what it was to shout
with laughter or rage, that she’d known a shred
of liberty. Remember you saw her in the street

that time, her drab robes drawing your gaze
to bulbous ankles trapped in taut shoes.
You nearly said hello Zahira. Held your tongue

just in time. You’ve never been introduced.
Her name might be Enid. She might be happy.

by Rebecca Bilkau

Editor’s Note: This poem begins with what the speaker sees of their neighbor, but as the reader moves through the poem, it becomes clear that the words are more about the speaker than the neighbor.


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