WHEN I WAS 17 I BORROWED MY FATHER’S CAMERA

My mother’s garage is where
I left my photographs. When I visit
she complains that her car
must hold its breath to
squeeze past the stacks on which
we once rested our pride
like bored elbows on the smooth
black surface of a chemistry lab table.

Black and white photos
white borders no frames singular
shots of purpose; one even yielded a prize
a trophy for an underachieving artist
who prayed on conception.

Flattened, shuttled between a
portfolio. Italian wallet. Black
hardened cardboard straight and taut
clenching the yellowed black and
yellowed white prints made in darkness
while my boyfriend kissed my neck.

The shadowed figure, slow speed
f-stop low, tight lipped
saying nothing. He runs up the
stairs of the high school, a penlight
of brightness seeps into a window
at the apex of the stairs. I caught the motion
slowed into haze and shape. Squint and
the boy’s hat is there. The light
pressed onto the cold hard banister permanently
a marker that it was day and he was night.

photographer-vintage

I tried again a dozen times, setting
and re-shuttering, posing
and burning the imagined outcomes.
Failed and amateur studies of a green artichoke
spilling off a chrome platter, tickled
by peppercorns of black and white, a play
on color, no color. Green without color
is grey and the leaves look like rotted bark.

Or the slinky girl half-dressed slung
across velvet red, I backlighted her frizz and
begged out her sultriness. Puckered lips
and half-lowered violet lids;
a portrait of a lady appears blandly. Or the

side of the government building, tilted
wrong even for an artist’s eye or the
smashed window, its center exploded;
ripples of glass worms, an insect’s feelers
strung out in a perfectly damaged circle or

the fountains in front of Caesars Palace
at night, slow and blurred and terribly
terribly dull or the desert a long idle
landscape stretched to the edges
glittering with a light here and there, sequins
on a blanket in a dark room.

I was kidding my chemicals and so I quit
this deceitful grasping at images caught
like fresh fish not yet in the boat.

I was lucky then. My eye
closed over the Yashica tight
on a tripod I trusted it to dig past mere
particles and slap the cheek at 1/60th
of a second. A mark was left behind
a handprint embossed on paper with
my fingerprints.

 

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