They make their way upstairs into a pile
Atop the mirror table in the hall,
These musty snapshots from the basement file.
Nostalgia. Someone’s periodic trawl,
A cruelty, unearths the Polaroid
And moldy Kodak pictures from the mist
And mice and floods I’d hoped destroyed
Them since they last resurfaced. They persist
In cyclical recurrence and decay
To taunt the negligent historian
Who wills that family records fade away,
The second-generation Dorian,
Who sublimates the portrait. There’s a salve
Of ultimate delusion. For we have….
The barbeque. My father rakes the coals
And shares the sidelong laughter with Marie,
His tennis partner—neighbors, kindred souls,
Suburban archetypes. And I can see
Them now exactly as I saw them then.
The only difference is the understanding
I have gained of negatives, the zen
Of capturing relationships in standing
Water in the basement and in space.
The photographic evidence is there—
The yellow halo circling his face,
The faded shapes obscuring half her hair,
Which filled an upper corner of the shot.
The question of what’s there and what is not.
And next we have the master of the bow-
line: Navy man-cum scouter with a hat
Like Smokey Bear, a neckerchief below
The double chin. It’s black and white. It’s matte
And inaccessible. A world of codes
Cut out for him that cut him off from us,
Suggesting secret week-long episodes—
The trip he took to Philmont on a bus
In ‘69, for one. I’ll never reach
Him in this missing space. He was the master
Of his own domain in which he’d teach
Me, on our one vacation, how my faster
Way to tie the sheep shank didn’t work.
He laid the cotton squarely with a jerk.
And finally the photo of a ghost,
A recognizable exchange of air
Across the grass at springtime with a host
Of garden angels gasping in despair
From sodden marginalia. Here he’s gone,
Not merely on his way but actually
Upon the other shore, another lawn
Beneath my mother’s ornamental tree.
I know exactly where his feet would touch
Despite the crop. A sloppy Windsor knot
Reveals he’s finished leaving us as such—
A businessman some paparazzo caught
Between the missed appointment and a scream
That fogs the glass in a recurrent dream.
I lay the photos back where they were placed
On purpose, on some level, I’m convinced,
Their presence timed precisely. The erased
Is etched again, or traced, and acid-rinsed
And misting at the bottom of a box
Beneath convenient flooding and some rocks.