Poem Inspired by a Photo Taken by Itinerant Photographer

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Image From New England Reflections 1882-1907 Photographs by the Howes Brothers

The following persona poem is based on the above photograph and appears in my upcoming collection Church of Needles, officially published on May 30 but available for pre order right now at Red Mountain Press and Amazon.com

 

 

BLACK WOMAN STANDS FOR THE ITINERANT PHOTOGRAPHER

Said in town, a gentleman wished to see me.

Early April, the yard still pocked
where the dull cow stands
blinking back a sharp sun,

winter’s waste laid bare around us.

Trees haven’t yet recalled their leaves
and a cold drizzle slicks the pump handle.
This far north, spring storms still surprise.
April brings a slackened grip, a brighter light
to view winter’s leavings: not warmth, not flowers.

I’m wondering Sir, why you want to see me.

They say in town, you carry a box with an eye and wish to see everyone.
I think they’re mistaken if they believe

you wish to see me, my soiled apron,
dress rubbing bare at the elbows, the scar
I wear down one side of my face.
But this is New York where I am free
to live in one room beneath a low-slung roof, to plot my days and garden.

So, if you still wish to see me, I ask
that you see me true, not seated in repose beneath that pretty oak.

I don’t often take time to rest. See me standing
beside the stones I’ve heaped
to build my own wall,
the hens a blur of flight. Please,
let the light refuse to soften me.

2 thoughts on “Poem Inspired by a Photo Taken by Itinerant Photographer

  1. Sue,
    I was immediately taken by this photo when I first saw it. I know it was common for the subject of an itinerant photographer to surround herself (or himself) with the tools of her trade, or special items that were points of pride. But this woman just had ‘fight’ written all over her face. She looks like a survivor. Coupled with the time it was taken and the fact that it was taken in the north, I could imagine she had found freedom from some kind of servitude, if not slavery. The sense that she could work herself out of a hole if need be also comes through to me. It’s as if she’s saying: ‘take me as I am, at first sight, no embellishments.’

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