Photography

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 29 2001 12:10 PM

Photography

Listen to poem audio here.

Who would deal events an instant silence,
rethinking them in black and white and gray?
The eye that says, "Hold still," while awe exempts
[one smaller, straight-edged quadrant of a site]
from the mudslide attrition of day-by-day.

A click's enough to frame a face, a body
[the psyche coaxed outside to show herself],
pausing for a breath that, living still,
vision inhales each time I identify—
or do so with—her mime in monochrome.

*

Photographer, gleaner of epiphanies:

Sepia angle of a Pyramid
egypting the nineteenth-century background,
[one camel's heavy-lidded trance under sawtooth palms].

*

On the propylaeum steps, beneath a scarred Ionic column,
[two stoic guides, crouched, hugging their knees]
sit tight for the exposure and the duration.

*

[A phaeton stopping at the Place de l'Opéra.]
[Crowds surging across the London Bridge.]

*

[Niagara's marble avalanche.]
[Apache chief, wincing at the flash.]
[Confederate grays, bearded troops now dead in perpetuity.]
[Locomotive charting a westward course under frozen coal-smoke.]
[Yosemite and its surveyor.]

*

[Line without end,
immigration at Ellis Island],
applicants whose first lives have reached
a terminal, praying the prayers for resurrection
won't be rubber-stamped DENIED.

*

Then from our own wrecked century, reportage
feeding the magazines to make them lifelike:
[Depression.] [Popular Front.] [A dictator in mid-air.]
Documents heaped up, stacked like cords of wood,
like the dead [charnel that just missed incineration],
dispersion in silver billows of anonymity …
[The bomb.] [Famine.] [Nightstick marrying a temple.]

*

And all across the latter decades, backyards native
to Atlanta and Portland, Topeka and Eureka, feature
[Mom in Bermudas, Dad at the grill, kids with their fads].
[The wedding], [the christening], restaged after the event—
one, two, three, snap!—in a more perfect perfection.
Sweet album, be it ever so humble, there's no place like.

*

Photographer, record yourself in a time-lapse shot:

[Your body backed by the Pyramids.]
[Your face smiling from the Acropolis.]
[You, a stroller on London Bridge.]
[You, silhouetted against the white noise of Niagara.]
[You and yours on the ferry to Ellis Island.]

*

Each negative went down into baptismal darkrooms,
first nocturnity rinsed away to resurface in white
and fine-grained shades of blackened silver. All that tech
can save, arcades, statues, rainforests, icebergs, skylines,
movie stills, road signs, what we have been, what lived,
trivial or grand: our treasure and out of reach, springs
long gone, whose available sun will never set.

Alfred Corn's 10th book of poems, Tables, will be published this January. He spent the earlier part of this year as a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, working on a new version of Rilke's Duino Elegies.

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