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Winter 2009

The Invention of Photography

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The adenoidal, glass-brick Fifties,
Tarzan featured on the cell block
for Moyamensing's livid inmates,
doing their screening room shuffle,
while Uncle P. talked to a guard
and I feared things that they did not.

*

In the fearless 1850s, mad-hatters forged
images of dolls, doilies, sewers,
eight-year-old odalisques
in off-the-shoulder nighties...
Gentleman Brits claimed their Sphinx
and Hindoo temples. We had our Civil War,
rail cuts and silver mines,
darkroom vans racked with plates,
jerky, mule feed, cameras
the Sioux called shadow catchers.

*

Pull the lens cover,
the ground glass blinks a century
to a two-minute wonderment,
when every decent family craved
its Polaroid and waited to see what
it would make of us, how inhale
blood matter and lick it into life.

*

The string-bean screw says, "poor creeps,"
and leads us through stone
MGM Egyptian gates
to sunlight's harsh hurrah outside,
shows off his sedan's crimped,
toasted fender that Uncle P. shoots
for insurance evidence, then,
more evidence, a conversation piece:
me, guard, and penitentiary.

*

I later found inside a drawer
a foxed Sixties print. A secret
about a secret. Sunday morning,
there they stand, fertile forms,
grinning, hamming it up,
uncle, wife, and son,
a standardized toxic family
the squeezebox resolved into color,
still a little liquid with the past:
they stare into the yonder yonder,
with no hint of the old eternity
we all heard so much about
in the church conspiring behind them,
or eternity's simulacrum
where convicts served their time.

*

Fast times now lead us through
our small malarial wars for the millions,
platoon grins, cemetery symmetries,
a bullet in a flattened head, dead men's dumps,
Pol Pot's carefully numbered portrait archive,
the fallen and the disappeared from city towers:
a double-page spread, a yearbook layout.

*

But now here we are in Sharon Meadow,
pixelled in the viewfinder screen
by an accommodating stranger,
we and background congas and bongos
freeze-dried in the sky's micaceous green.
We smile for the moment filed away.

*

And now, love, tip the screen just so.
Now we see us, now we don't,
digital daguerreotype spooks,
chromed noses, iridium eyes,
who fade, just so, to slate or silver.
There we lie in wait for ourselves.


—W. S. Di Piero


W. S. Di Piero's latest book of poetry is Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems. A new book of essays, City Dog, is out in March 2009. He lives in San Francisco.
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