Photograph, 80 years later

Photography takes an instant out of time,
altering life by holding it still. – Dorothea Lange

Three children, hands in laps,
pose on a log cabin porch
behind their young father
cradling a newborn babe
while reclining in rocking chair
in weed-filled lawn:
taste of rural life
sliced from the past,
pickled onto paper,
reduced to zeros and ones,
reconstructed for those who come after
into happy, loving family
with well-behaved children.

A photograph is a secret about a secret.
The more it tells you the less you know. – Diane Arbus

What mysteries lurk
in the shadows
of this pastoral tableau
where ancestors converge
in mannequin moment
that masks reality,
obscures passions
of life dreamt,
now completed?

Quaint family’s first child
nowhere to be found.
She lived her short fate,
only a month in ‘28.
Second is doing fine:
oldest boy born in ‘29.
A teacher he would become.
Another boy born in ‘31
would be a firefighter
until in ‘93 he was done.
Fourth, like his big sister absentee,
lived only a day in ’33.
Fifth, known evermore
as eldest girl, born in ’34.
What did she do for a living?
Another born in ’36,
too quickly for a name
ferried across river Styx.
Babe in father’s arms came next,
another girl, born in ’37,
seventh of eventual eleven.

Four children in a photo
animated by unknown joys,
weighted with forgotten worries,
today with children, families,
secrets of their own.
Do any remember
living in a log cabin,
their thoughts, their dreams?
Would they have rather been playing?
Were there chores waiting?
Did they get along or fight, like siblings do?

Three ghosts unseen.
Did father feel their presence
as he rocked the newborn?
Did he sense a family not yet whole?
Where was mother?
Perhaps she captured this moment
for future musings of what was,
what could never be,
or maybe she’s the almost human
smudge in the window,
watching over her family
from within.

The whole point of taking pictures
is so that you don’t have to explain things with words. – Elliott Erwitt

No words, then no Elizabeth, no Jack,
no anonymous baby girl.
Who will tell our story?
They ask from their graves.
Will you remember us?
Will you dream our dreams for us?
If photographs don’t require words
why are there so many questions?

©2018 Kenneth W. Arthur