Looking Backward


From white the world fades
in, vision begins, of pleating
water, sand defined by sandaled
feet, by footsteps.
     Toward the camera
     a wind fixed.
In this dream's a ghost
far shore of ghost hotels
and trees tall tokens
of horizon.
     Foreground, Mort and Beth
     posed shortly to ride
     on Mama's back, unsure
     of what? Helen,
     mother, propped herself
     up on her stomach.
     Paul wore a woolly jumper
     like a little muskrat.
Grandma fading into
sky arrests his arm
as he hops.

     august 1925 sunset
     all day it's been in the seventies
     hazy with small-boned breezes
     arthur under the oaks drinks limeade
     three poles spike the lake down
     to the farthest ones the kids wade
     they hang on kicking
     pretending to swim

Grandma, hair pulled back,
wore a knit dress
that passed for bathing suit.
     She looks from the camera,
     blends with background.
Who is this picture of? Helen smiled
for the camera but is almost buried
by her children
     staring straight at me
     as into a window.

     In Helen's house I look at the photo,
     her mother long dead, and now Arthur;
     children moved away and married.
     The picture is so sharp I could be there,
     even the distortions are believable,
     monochrome and overexposed lake.
     Depth. I might be Mort,
     wild ears, buck teeth, the asking
     look. The eyes are sharp linchpins.

I could hear the waves,
Paul singing, Oldsmobile horns
from across the lake.
I can't say
     what I'm trying to say. Maybe
     it is that in thirty years
     that girl, Beth, will have a child,
     and in twenty-five unimaginable more
     he will see a photograph
     about which he will try to write.