(Hong Kong, 1960)
I’m scanning the oldest slides of my family
into the computer, looking back at another life, back
when whatever was going to happen hadn’t, yet.
My child-smile is still wide open, without
the wry twist all the later photos show,
my face turned upward toward
whoever is holding the camera.
Which was almost always my father.
Most of these are his sight-seeing snapshots,
touristy scenes of ruins and famous buildings,
skylines and landscapes, evidence to mark
all the places the service had taken him. Not
great shots, they seem somehow unattended to,
blurry, sun-bleached, and off-center.
It’s only the photographs of my mother
that reveal his heart. As if the gaze of the lens
carried all the weight of his desire. She’s
obviously his favorite subject— the images of her
rise to the level of art: cradling a baby,
laughing in a deck chair, outshining a faded
statue of Buddha in a Hong Kong alleyway.
The one that stops me is from 1960. She’s boarding
a sampan, bare-headed, her long hair tied back
tight against the wind, a white scarf
thrown over her right arm, wearing
a simple, plaid dress. It’s clear nothing matters
to the photographer but her, nothing else
is quite in focus, nothing quite real.
I have never believed in another life
after this one, but if there were,
I’d wish she had arrived there
just like this— on a small boat,
with sun in her face, and the man
who loved her beyond his own life
gazing on amazed and taking her picture.