June 8, 2011

Something Wonderful: American Dream By Emily Louise Smith


By the time Walker Evans arrived, there wasn’t much

besides the shrug of a tenant house,

sun-stiff shirts hung like paper-doll garland.

Red-clay road, a gash in the earth. Come evening,

an oak limb strew a negligee of shadow

across the barn. He’d never seen light

touch things like that, nearly prayerful,

the way it blotted roofs and wood floors.

It would prove as impossible to capture

as the odor of smoke, lye soap, and sleep

the children carried like clouds in their pockets.

He tried leaving them out, but to photograph

a field is to hold a mirror to longing.

Even cutlery kept between a board and wall

reminded him of them wedged in the single bed

Years later, a potbelly moon would spit stars

across Massachusetts, and he’d remember

the baby napping at Mrs. Field’s breast.

How, just before he made their picture,

she stroked a lock of blond hair and

launched, in the child’s dream, a paper boat.

There is in every photograph a secret

that implicates the viewer in someone else’s memory

of a pasture, a rusted sign, a dress pattern.

It’s what love does: makes room

for a boat on a tenant farm in Alabama.

All day he’d wait for the right light

on a stove, by which he meant to say

the effect of them on that place. Even long after

the grown child inherited his forbearers’ sleep

like the emptiness under the belly of the house.

Discovered by Daphne who says, correctly, This talented woman writes like a well hung, glossy shutter: true, tight and gorgeously smooth.
Posted by Vanderleun at June 8, 2011 8:32 PM
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