- Looking through the Entries in an Old Pocket Notebook, and: Take Another Look
Looking through the Entries in an Old Pocket Notebook
Then there’s this—the gist of a sentence Written down from memory And left as if pressed between pages: Fixing the present in the districts of the past . . .
Something to do with photography perhaps, The image in its fixative bath? It’s got me thinking about Eugène Atget In his dawn-drenched city,
Out prowling the cul-de-sacs, The vignette doorways and storefronts Flashed on dry plate negatives Like the ghostly held breaths of their glass.
The way he could have done in Pittsburgh, Setting up those long exposures In the long-gone Jenkins Arcade, Or across the street from Kaufmann’s clock
Where the dead still arrange to meet— Dissolving figures in the solvents of light— The time above them focal and frozen, The shadows all silver nitrate. [End Page 41]
Take Another Look
A young woman posed before the front of a trolley Hanging from a chain link fence.
Behind her the grottoed patio in which people sit: Picnic tables, uprights of an arbor
Canopied with still-bare vines. The worn scroll On the trolley reads homestead-duquesne,
Brackets for a stretch of track, the woman’s clothes Dating from decades after it lapsed,
The claret of her jacket matching the fleur-de-lis You’ve noticed speckling her indigo dress.
Most likely it’s the promise of grapes in the photo That has you now studying her wild black hair
And how it’s touched at the top with sunlight, A little crown of tendrils on fire.
The wrought-iron shadows filigreed beside her. The trolley’s cream-and-cardinal halves.
From all this you gather the season and time of day, Though the occasion remains opaque—
Memorial or spur-of-the-moment? Take another look. Peripheral, you’re still drawn in,
The way that man is in the background Staring straight into the lens. [End Page 42]
Camera put away, my wife and I sat in the patio The way we did on summer afternoons,
Grapes straight out of Caravaggio Hanging above us, filtering the light,
The sound of a slow freight in the distance Keeping rhythm, and ample time
For another round. Clouded purple clusters. Bees like flecks of the honeyed sun.
When she died, I had the bar at least for solace. Then, before long, not even that.
Only the empty space where the air in summer Wavers above the pavement.
Weeks after he’d sold it, we’d see the old man Out back, all alone (who’d thought
He wanted nothing to survive him), Trapped in the wreckage of what he’d done.
3. another look
And if that trolley had read desire? Could this be anything to you but oddment,
Snapshot, a moment’s coalescence In which the light has been stopped?
The coppery crown-fire of the tendrils, The thorn of the sun in her hair . . . [End Page 43]
How could it be other? The occasions of grief, After all, are absent from the photograph,
Except for the late-day shadows Which are synoptic for us all. [End Page 44]
robert gibb’s books include The Origins of Evening, which was a National Poetry Series winner. Among his other awards are two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Pushcart prize. His most recent books are Sheet Music and The Empty Loom.