Four Photographs

Not just the shape but its resonance,
shadows dancing, the snake and weave pattern
of tiles in the bathroom of a church, an afghan
my grandmother sends at Christmas, the color
of soap bubbles in a baby’s bath, sketches
left by wind in snow, pictures of myself
with people I will never know.

My grandfather, for example. One photograph
remains of him and me, in 1959,
in front of a house I don’t recall, his arm
around my shoulders as he kneels beside me.
I’m three years old. I’m afraid
this is all I know of the man: that he died
young, of heart trouble, soon after this photograph
was taken, and that he invented a flotation device
for tanks during the Second World War.

Of my great aunt Faye I know a little more;
this picture was taken when I was twenty-four,
by my grandmother in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
I remember her cake, her big color T.V.
I sat on their porch swing and played my guitar.
I promised to visit again the next year
but the cancer was already in her.

In this one I’m standing with strangers,
friends of Aunt Faye. When
I say the word death
my breath is taken from me.
Leaves spin in the wind, from far off
the sound of a chainsaw cuts
against the grain. The rain begins,
inevitable, grey. Then the flash
of a snapshot surprises us.
I’m looking at my feet, where waters meet
and wash away, where bubbles form
in interlocking hexagons, swell and join
and burst, and bending close can see
my own bent reflection in each one.

I’m not even in this picture. My grandmother
looks up from another afghan.
It’s early winter, and she’s falling
behind her schedule. She slips
loops of blue yarn over brown,
her great-grandson’s eyes. Her hope
is to finish this one, and one more,
before the Christmas rush. She remembers him
splashing in the bath, thinks
of my grandfather, twenty-five years ago, “just
stepping out to the garage,” of her sister Faye
slipping out of her body quietly. Six years
now, they pass so fast, gold loops
over the blue, a cold winter here, and there,
the baby will be needing this. She hurries
to be through, each little knot a day past,
arranged in rows, changing colors, grey
for rain, a streak of yellow for a sunny week,
slip and purl, take it out to try again.
The strings pass through her hands,
and the pattern remains.

(kz1986) (previously appeared in Calapooya Collage)

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