Photographs of my Father

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.

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6 Responses to “Photographs of my Father”

  1. mrschili Says:

    “I’d hoped they were destroyed
    In basement floods or mouse nests.”

    WOW, did this resonate for me. I have memories I wish were destroyed, too, though mine aren’t being kept in shoe boxes and, as such, aren’t easily vanquished….

  2. Rick Says:

    Thanks Mrs. C.

    As you can see, I hit this with the sonnet stick. Here is the original:

    Photographs of My Father

    I found a stack of photographs of dad
    From way back in the seventies.
    My wife had dredged them from a box
    In which I’d hoped they were destroyed
    In basement floods or mouse nests.

    No such luck.
    The images persist. The Bar-B-Q—
    He’s laughing with Marie
    Who lived next door.
    The Scoutmaster—he’s dour,
    In uniform,
    A fat-neck neckerchief.
    The business man—he’s
    Angry with my sisters.

    All the images fall back into
    Their curatorial compartments,
    Shrines in shadow boxes
    Where, surprisingly, the toggle switch
    Still lights a fragile, clear glass bulb
    Illuminating wooden frames
    In which the dust is swirling,
    Swirling like a mirror
    In a fever dream.

    I prefer the sonnet–this is a good example of how formal verse pulls lines from the writer that the writer may never have gotten to on his own.

    Kills some lines too.

  3. Marjorie Says:

    I quite like this. It puts me in mind of Greg Williamson’s “Double Exposure” poems–are you familiar with those? Another example of form sparking a piece that’s utterly different from anything that could exist in free verse.

  4. Todd Says:

    Heavy stuff my old friend. Give me a shout if you get down my way.
    Some thoughts sure don’t turn easily late at night.

  5. colleen Says:

    I just find myself shaking my head at the mystery of it all. Something so real now isn’t.

    You know I am so not a formalist but I like the sonnet poem better. It’s heady but if you take it slow there is so much more to it.

  6. Tata Says:

    I’ll never reach
    Him in this missing space.

    There is no key, but here is the broken lock.

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