Anne Ryland

The Marias of Lisbon

On my winter morning run to the basilica, I slow
and pause to read washing lines – strung from rooftops,
reaching window to window across scrunched
alleys, they marry opposed households.

The Marias of Lisbon have threaded their own map
through the jumbled city. Laundry flocks
in courtyards, slinks along the narrow becos. Jeans
against crumbling plaster, T shirts clash with azulejos.

One floor above cobbles, a sheet flutters in surrender.
I cross over to pass below, study this Maria’s method,
her back rows – assorted cloths; chalice-cleaners,
Part-purified, she’s gone off to Missa.

Untroubled by glory, Maria-in-the-flats has pinned
her family upside-down-inside-out. Two nights
they’ve been there. She longs for um pouco de
liberdade –
not just her bra, her hair, flowing in the wind.

The most fragile women relish being aired.
I imagine a lone bird-like Maria leaning over
her balcony to the rope, for uma cerimônia de lavanderia
a resistance-dress clasped in her hand.

Another, as a young wife, had to keep guard
at the window. Tell me that story, Lisboeta Maria –
how you pegged a faded towel on your line as
a signal
to your husband: it was safe now to come home.

Anne Ryland’s third collection of poetry, Unruled Journal, has just been published by Valley Press. Her previous collections are Autumnologist, shortlisted for The Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2006, and The Unmothering Class (Arrowhead Press). She lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed and leads writing workshops in community-based settings.