(After “Traveling Without a Camera",
Alternative Lives by Constance Urdang)
So this is what you remember
of some time and place, coordinate and dim,
like twilight is in some filter-down time
that glows in moments
that match a mood—this way and that
of whatever resonates
with rich importance—
that camera click your eye demands
and tries to have, not to be named correctly
and only half remembered.
IN THIS PHOTOGRAPH
I am eight years old. It must be winter. I
am wearing my winter coat and my new hat
with the red cherries pulled down close to my
face. I remember that I loved it. I am turned
aside a little toward the long-ago camera.
My bangs are too long. I think I am in Seattle.
My smile is very dear to me, even now, to be
that young and unused by life, trusting its path.
I don’t remember the day of the photograph—
why I had my coat and hat on. I think it was
one of those four-for-a-quarter picture-booths;
perhaps my mother and I were shopping. Why
do I feel such a pang of loneliness that I don’t
lost and abandoned. This is the first story.
She walked up the small gold hill in Seattle in
1932 in her dress that she called Ice Blue, and
there faced the candid glance of the camera. A
soft wind blew her skirt against her legs and her
cloche hat made an outline of shadow around her
face. She struck a pretty pose and became a
timeless focal point. The hill-grass froze in its
motion and a passing cloud held its shape.
Whatever was special about that day is professed
by the way she stood—in honor of the dress
perhaps, or to mark a place in time that would
soon be an old time held to an eye of memory.
There’s not much more to the story. Death took
its place beside her as death does when time is
recalled from some far year when all becomes
dear again. Ice Blue, she said, is the color of this
dress—or maybe that was another picture in another
year, and maybe she never bothered to go up
the small hill that day for a snapshot—or a struggling
poem this far in time away.
I saw two swans, as if they were dreams,
drifting upon a wide gray water, with music
floating all around and distant time waiting
for them to be noticed; and as they stole my
attention, they stayed forever—so simply
and silently elegant with perfection, absorbing
the blending of the water, and the sky which
was lowering its soft twilight about them as
they drifted, one behind the other, upon their
peacefulness. There was nothing to startle them—
nothing of any presence to disturb—as a mood
camera slowly pulled away and finally lost them
as the water and the sky and the distance widened
into a sad perspective—removing me from them,
though I wanted to stay in the far soft focus and
blissful unawareness of their range.
two swans on twilight lake
oblivious to Zoom Lens
pulling them away
(first pub. in Poets’ Forum Magazine, 1997-1998)
(After “Seated Man” by Peter Max, 1981)
He sits so long he is fading into his chair.
The room droops around him with a musty color.
The flowers on the wall wilt and are forgotten.
He never seems to close his eyes.
He and the windows stare at each other.
Someone comes in and gives a nod of greeting.
He shifts a little and disturbs his shadow.
He has to begin again. He thinks in questions :
what time for this? what time for that?
His watch ticks in his pocket.
Someone comes down the stair and
goes out the door which closes with a wheeze.
A rain begins, as if on time.
He watches the rain stream down the window.
His reflection blurs.
His clothes begin to rumple.
His hat is getting wet.
He wishes he had his umbrella.
OLD LOBBY – II
(After a picture of a woman in the rain in
mask and ballet costume by David Pellettier)
A white-masked woman appears under
shrill white neon outside the door of the
old hotel. She stares at the man in the lobby,
waiting for him to notice her, though she
has outgrown herself—her white costume
too small and her satin shoes ruined
from the rain. She no longer knows
her face behind the blank face of the mask
or what the dance should be, if she
is there to dance. She seems surprised
to be there. She watches the mauve reflection
of the man shimmer between them
in the window—how the awkward flowers
on the wall shudder possessively toward him—
how firmly he seems fastened to his chair.
HISTORY’S OLD HOUSE
(Poe’s Mother’s House, 1930
From Facebook "Camera Obscura" page)
What next, a scene out of anywhere, but this:
The front door open upon a narrow stair next
to an alcove that looks like a tunnel. A gaping
window above the door. The whole building
held by stubborn gray brick, all wood frame-
work rotting. All that is needed aside from
the gloomy day is an unsolved mystery—even
a murder. It all fits: the musty smell, the webby
feel wherever you put your hand—even the
shadows that go only so far back to strike
against solid black interior. Even a small tree
growing out of a pipe outside the upstairs window,
thriving there. No one seems to have taken ad-
vantage of the vacancy. No For Sale, No
Trespassing, or Beware signs. Nobody there.
No former occupant to name. This is History’s
old house that fits no page of memory. Only the
tree seems to matter, growing there, looking into
the sunless window.
TO A PHOTOGRAPH
That look in your eyes,
and the touch of grey in your beard.
The intelligent wrinkling of your brow.
Close up now to me.
As though listening.
The way you lean
attentively, as if about to speak—
though you—polite, are waiting for me
to finish this. Your white collar
throws a shadow on your face.
The darkened room
fits into the background.
One side of your face is
almost lost. There is a sway.
I feel it now. You mouth is so silent
and only my thoughts speak.
What if we might have loved—
—were ever real
to one another.
I sit here writing to you, looking at your eyes
which are looking at me. That look. That look.
Time is important to him—he hikes his sleeves
to show his watch with the large gold face
and band as he folds his arms across
his chest and barely smiles.
Soft-focus leaves flicker against the backdrop
sky as he stands in his dark suit and tie
and looks to the side and waits
for the camera click.
He seems shy, a bit reserved—reluctant to be
caught like this—candid and approachable.
But his face is unreadable. You will
have to buy his book.
IF THE PICTURE HADN’T BEEN
CROOKED I WOULDN’T HAVE
SEEN THE CROSS ~
the picture hangs
the orange sky
and the birds pul-
ling the right side
the black ground
and the crucifixion tree
in the corner star-
tles its branches out
to keep from falling