Tuesday Poem: In the Photograph


In the Photograph

that I have never seen,
the one my wife refuses to show me,
the one in the frame hugged to her chest,
she stands in a crowd, as I imagine it,
her hair larger, and looks ahead
to a future she has no idea includes me
imagining in the past
framed by this photograph a bird
sits just barely discernable in a tree
behind the voluminous mane of her head.
It has a red beak or, if the photograph, 
which I may have mentioned I have not seen,
is black and white, it is a beak one might
have to imagine to imagine to be red.
I may be making too much of the beak.
The tree might be what most matters
in this photograph, the way its skeletal
branches importune something about
winter sneaking up behind her,
like the future she thinks
she’s looking into, so young,
younger than I’ve ever known her.
It’s a group shot, but the photographer
has noticed her. Not her hair,
which is beautiful, but the red line
of her lips, the smile he commands
darting too quickly across her face,
a bird alighting on a branch
then flurrying away, like the present,
as if noticing it has been noticed
by someone who wants to say to the person
beside him, Quick, look at that bird,
but that person will say, What bird? What tree?
Anyway, she’ll say, this person beside him,
the person putting the frame face-down
on the table, then placing a book on top of it,
she’ll say, Anyway, it’s winter now,
and what’s gone is gone.

Mary McCallum generously asked me to post one of my own poems today. A bit immodest, but how often does a poet get requests? The poem was published originally in the journal Runes. It’s in my manuscript, A History of Glass, currently seeking a publisher. I’ll skip any critical commentary on the poem, though; might give me a split personality. For more Tuesday Poems, visit the Tuesday Poem site.

3 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: In the Photograph”

  1. Ah yes, this poem I heard you read in Palmerston North not too many weeks ago. You read it wonderfully… I love the way things curl in on themselves in your poems, Bryan, tuck in their tails and paws, so you can’t tell where they end and begin, and then suddenly roll on their backs, or jump up and run away. I especially love the line here: ‘ I may be making too much of the beak.’ Thanks for posting your poem, Bryan. More please. In blogland, posting your own work is not considered immodest but vital.

  2. A remarkable poem. Lovely the way you progress from the reticent (“might have mentioned,” “may be making”), to the confident (“she’ll say”). He may not know the photograph, but he knows his wife’s mind — even better than his own. And speaking of minds, I was looking at neuroscience and poetry this week. This poem achieves a remarkable “theory of mind” to the 6th degree. That is from you, the poet > narrator > photographer > wife > red-beaked bird > someone noticing red-beaked bird > person beside him. In fact, with this poem you may have disproved any idea — postulated by some neuroscientists — that the human mind can handle 5 degrees at most.

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