Sarah Caulfield

Shabbos Goy

The soft seashell whorl of her headscarf,
The colour of a captured pearl.
Cut down from a painting, she smiles in my memory—
Something slow and Renaissance—
And asks if I will eat with her family.

I sit, spine rigid as a crucifixion, pinning all my words
Back under my tongue, just to be sure. Best behaviour.
I am scared, in that startled, understated British way, that something
I do not mean, capable of wounding by accident, will slip out.
I swallow mouthfuls of chicken, and warmed through by her and her husband,
Go back to the kitchen.

Each Friday, I dip in out of the cold dusk,
And never think twice about why they keep security stood on the door
During synagogue. A kind of blindness.

I see with my hands in this place.
I fold them through the water, around handles, and lift. Pots part the sink and come up streaming.
It is a small kingdom, but it is made mine for a duration,
Borrowed in the strange liminal space before Saturday night.
I keep my headphones pocketed until the singing stops, my head submerged in the sound of
Something holy I cannot unhear.

Soon, the kitchen will flood with committee,
Pouring out vodka into plastic cups and crackling with laughter.
The last thing I do is clean the floor, erasing the footsteps
Of every person who walked here tonight. Yom HaShoah is next week.
The first boy to call my name beautiful tells me this.
The velvet curve of his cap against his skull glints liquid.
The floor is spotless. I think of a pile of shoes, haphazard, to be wiped out.
And I can’t breathe.

On Sunday, I will be thanked for my help.
They have no idea their kindness is saving my life.

Sometimes, walking home, all an ache, I think of
How there is still Hebrew song
Curling upwards into the air, outflung:
Welcome home.

Sarah Caulfield is the author of Spine (Headmistress Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in Lavender Review, Voicemail Poems and What Rough Beast. She has lived in the UK, Poland and Germany, and currently lives in Japan.