Monday, November 06, 2006

Start with a photograph

It's an exercise I often give to my students, to start with a photo--preferably an old photo--and see what it sparks.

This is an early photograph of my parents. I hadn’t planned on writing the poem below, but this photograph--along with another photo of my mother, years later--inspired me. This is what I wrote:

Fading Pictures

In the photograph, Mom and Dad sit on naugahyde
chairs. Mom wears that wide smile, now mine,
that she hates so much because her gums show. Dad
glimmers like a secret that yearns to be told
and squeezes a cigaret between two erect fingers.
A gold-framed photo of my brother
sits on the table between them.
I have not yet arrived.

They seemed so happy then, before Dad spent
his money on women. Before my brother
grew too old for his dreams. Before I married
beneath an ancient oak tree, sure that I would save
my children from the earth by having none.

Dad is long passed and Mom is far gone. Encased
in her tract home with an upstairs she never
uses. She boils chicken wings for her
Pomeranian that spins as it barks.

In the latest picture of Mom, she sits at her
kitchen table. Clutching a cigarette, she gazes
through the blinds at the barren winter landscape.
Empty chairs surround her table and I have to look
away from this already fading Kodak color.

The sadness in her eyes, the brittleness
of her crooked index finger. I cannot help
but wonder where the woman is who once tempted
any man who came near, who embarrassed
this daughter with her sexiness. Mom’s diamond
pendant, now mine, stuck in her cleavage. Men
just could not look away. With my small chest,
I cannot offer any place in which to wedge
that stone.


I ended up sending this to a local literary contest a bunch of years ago. The poem was a winner and was printed in Poetry Flash, a Bay Area literary journal.


Isabella Massardo said...

What a lovely picture and a beautiful poem!

Anonymous said...

I'm lovin' Dad's shoes! Cool.



Anonymous said...

This picture and your poem brought back some memories. I recognized your father right away. I was there that day under the ancient oak tree. Happy Thanksgiving!